After months of speculation and anticipation, Twitter finally announced the introduction of its advertising product, Promoted Tweets, in April. Though the platform is in its infancy, and only a handful of brands have been invited to test it so far, agencies and brands are already evaluating the opportunities and potential uses the service may present.
The Promoted Tweets model has been likened to search advertising in terms of its self-service platform, and the fact that advertisers target by choosing keywords and terms. However, agency execs suggest the format has more in common with earned media in the social media space, and will likely only be of use to those already investing heavily in wider social media activity.
"Promoted Tweets crosses the bridge between earned and paid media, and the brands that will get the most value out of Promoted Tweets are those that are already active on Twitter," said David Berkowitz, senior director of emerging media and innovation at digital agency 360i. "Far more important than racking up some body count of followers is understanding what works for them. What content and links do people like to share? Do followers want to be the first to know about some exclusive, do they want a great deal, or do they only respond to solve customer service issues?" he added.
Starbucks, for example, is extremely active across a range of social networks, and uses Promoted Tweets to drive traffic to content on sites such as YouTube and Facebook. One of the company's sponsored Tweets also refers users to its campaign on location-based social network Foursquare, through which users can earn discounts by frequenting Starbucks stores. That particular post has been re-tweeted by over 100 users so far, demonstrating that users are showing interest. It's this type of behavior that will inform what Twitter describes as a "resonance score," which aims to judge the viral potential of individual tweets.
Virgin America, meanwhile, is using Promoted Tweets to invite users to suggest a name for one of its planes, while Red Bull is promoting branded video content on its own site.
"Ultimately, Promoted Tweets will be best for amplification. Whether it's announcing that a certain celebrity will make a guest appearance on a TV show to drive tune-in, or sharing that there's a 24-hour special that's only announced on Twitter, Promoted Tweets can extend the reach well beyond a marketer's own followers," said Berkowitz.
Lisa Bronson, VP of media for digital agency LBi's U.S. operation held similar views on the potential of Promoted Tweets as an amplification tool, describing it as "a paid shot in the arm" for a brand's social media following. "For our clients in the entertainment space, it could have benefits in being able to help build a quick following and to complement earned media efforts," she said. "It could be of value for any brand with something to say. As long as you're providing something valuable on Twitter that's worth connecting to, advertising on the platform is also worth connecting to," she continued. Bronson said her agency has not yet been given the opportunity to test the format, but that it would consider testing it on behalf of clients.
Besides the more brand and content-oriented approaches currently being explored by Starbucks and Red Bull, Berkowitz also suggested direct response advertisers might find value in ads on Twitter, provided they use the right approach. Despite similarities with search advertising, Twitter remains a very different environment, he suggested.
"What direct marketers will have to evaluate going into this is what gets consumers to respond.... What works in Twitter - namely, what gets people talking and sharing the offer beyond just responding to it - may be different than deals advertised in other media. That's the big question for marketers: What kind of offer will get consumers to share it? With the best uses of Promoted Tweets, even direct response campaigns will have extended benefits for branding," he said.
Berkowitz also acknowledged the potential for reputation and crisis management using the platform. BP, for example, has been purchasing search ads describing its attempts to rectify the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "You'd think it would be even more important on Twitter. With search, you influence information, but on Twitter you can influence conversation," he said.
The examples of promoted tweets mentioned above currently only appear in searches for those specific brands, but Twitter says it intends to include ads elsewhere in users' feeds, likely targeted by users' demonstrated interests, accounts they follow, and the content of their tweets. Twitter should manage to avoid much of the privacy criticism leveled at competing networks like Facebook, since the majority of content on the site is, by its very nature, intended to be public.
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Jack Marshall was a staff writer and stats editor for ClickZ News from 2007 until August 2011.