Marketers Mull Value of Twitter Search Ads

Rumors abound about a potential search deal between Twitter and Google, Microsoft, or possibly Yahoo. But as deal and acquisition gossip proliferates, some are considering the potential value of such deals from a marketing standpoint.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of value for paid advertising [in Twitter]. I think it’s more for content targeting,” said search engine marketing consultant Eric Frenchman.

There are a couple obvious ways search advertising might appear on Twitter, including within search results or alongside content and targeted against specific keywords, À la AdSense. Whether marketers can derive the same value from Twitter search results ads as they do through more traditional search engine advertising is debatable. For instance, Frenchman contended the value of search marketing lies in its ability to reach people who are seeking information, while on Twitter, “I don’t know that people are looking for information as much as pushing out information,” he said. “You’re broadcasting to the world, and I don’t know if that broadcast has got the same targeting relevance that Google does.”

There’s also the question of whether or not a search ad partner would benefit from a deal with a social platform such as Twitter. Google, for example, has indicated its search ad deal with MySpace has been difficult to monetize. Still, the firm has signaled an interest in enhancing its current algorithm with social search elements.

While MySpace is used primarily for finding and interacting with friends, David Berkowitz, director of emerging media at digital marketing agency 360i, suggested: “A lot of Twitter’s value is really as a search engine.” He said advertisers could facilitate the user experience when people are looking for up-to-date information on a specific issue or news event. For instance, media brands might link to their stories through Twitter search ads in the same way they do in Google search results or their own tweets.

“MySpace already had a lot of venues for advertisers, and right now this is really about figuring out the first way for advertisers to actually take part in [Twitter],” added Berkowitz. “There will be a lot of opportunities for advertisers to keep adapting to ways [Twitter usage evolves.]”

Berkowitz also sees potential for local search ads within Twitter, suggesting users seeking timely data on the crowd status at nearby restaurants or bars could benefit from advertisements from local establishments. In addition, he anticipates Twitter offering advertising in mobile platforms. “One of the very convenient aspects of Twitter is that there are 140 characters, and with text messages there’s room for 160, so you have some built-in ad room right there.”

“If Twitter does do a deal with a major search engine, then there are going to be a few instant advantages,” added Berkowitz, noting a partner like Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo could make Twitter ads “fairly easy to buy.”

If Twitter were to offer contextually targeted ads, the company could be expected to face the same obstacles to monetization that social sites like MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube have been up against. Advertisers have long been leery of presenting their brands in uncontrolled or irrelevant content. If, for instance, advertisers were able to target ads contextually against tweets mentioning specific topics or brand names, the context of those posts would be difficult to determine.

“You could say, ‘This product sucks,’ ” suggested Frenchman, noting that such content would not be a good place for an advertiser selling said product. Such concerns seem legitimate as tags including brand names like “#amazonfail” gain ground in Twitter posts referring to alleged removal of gay and lesbian books from the Web retailer’s sales rankings.

Also, Frenchman noted the context of a tweet often lies elsewhere on the site, or beyond Twitter itself. “It’s usually a link to something else…Right now it’s an echo chamber.”

However, Frenchman sees some potential value in Twitter advertising from a branding perspective. For example, he envisions the ability to sponsor search results for Twitter hash tags, which allow people to easily find all posts related to a particular topic. “There’s some value in it, but I don’t know how much,” he added.

Some companies have already attempted to exploit Twitter content organized according to category or through dedicated hash tags. Glam Media allows advertisers to target ads to people using a tool that aggregates tweets and other social media content according to topic. Federated Media also launched a service in conjunction with Twitter recently which allows advertisers to brand pages compiling tweets on certain topics or from particular people.

The greatest benefit of Twitter to marketers may already exist. Search advertising or other forms of ads in Twitter may never be of as much value to marketers as the platform’s current use as a buzz research tool. “I hope nothing supersedes that value; it’s only going to get more important,” Berkowitz said.

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