[Editorial notes: Guest article contributed by Yashraj Vakil, COO, Red Digital. Yashraj walks us through his experiments with Twitter’s self-served advertising.]
In February 2012, Twitter announced that it had partnered with American Express to give away $1 million in free advertising to small businesses. The first 10,000 eligible businesses that register for the program were to be given $100 in free Twitter advertising and exclusive access to Twitter’s self-served ads module, provided they were following American Express on Twitter, and possessed an American Express credit card issued in America. In March 2012, these 10,000 businesses begun receiving access to Twitter’s self-served ads program, and luckily enough, my personal Twitter handle was amongst those selected.
In the social media space, Facebook’s advertising platform is by far the most developed and widely used; it is available to even the smallest of businesses with the most limited budgets. Facebook can deliver a message to various demographics due to its scale and targeting capabilities, making it extremely effective for B2C marketing. LinkedIn’s advertising program, though expensive, is tremendously effective for B2B companies and brands, due to its professional information dissemination function. Google is the old warhorse and provides a number of options and advantages to advertisers. All three social platforms have very robust self-served ad modules.
Twitter, by far, is still the most underdeveloped advertising platform. It has offered Promoted Accounts wherein your brand would show in the ‘Who to follow’ section; its Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends are still under beta. Until recently, Twitter planned to do things differently.
With self-served ads on Twitter, I could now buy Promoted Tweets (currently under beta) and Promoted Accounts online without talking to a salesperson, much like Facebook, Linkedin and Google. This is a very significant development in the social media space; it has the potential to take Twitter’s $139 million ad revenue in 2011 far higher and create multiple opportunities for agencies such as Red Digital. I began running a few ads with limited spends to experiment with the platform exactly one month ago. With this story I intend to provide a perspective on how Twitter’s ads stack up to its competitors’.
1. Trouble-Free & Effortless
Self-Served Twitter ads are simple. In fact, I can’t imagine them getting any simpler than this. I could target users based on a selected geographical area, worldwide, by country or by a specific US city. It will be interesting to observe its scope when Twitter introduces city targeting in other countries.
2. Two ways to run your promotion
The self-served ads module for small businesses only offers Promoted Accounts and Promoted Tweets. I would have loved to see Promoted Trends being offered as well. While Promoted Accounts is widely used, Promoted Tweets is still in beta even for larger advertisers and it was great to have first-hand access to it.
With Promoted Accounts, Twitter displays my handles/account on the top, in the ‘Who to follow’ section, hence targeting users who are most likely to be interested in my account; I only pay for new followers that I gain.
With Promoted Tweets, Twitter highlights and publishes all my Tweets for my followers and those with similar interests to my followers. I can also choose not to promote specific Tweets. Exactly like Google Adwords and Facebook Ads, Tweets that see maximum engagement and gain higher visibility are promoted to a larger extent.
The best part of Twitter Ads is that they show on handheld devices such as phones and tablets as well.
3. Real Time
When it comes to Twitter, it’s simply real-time! There is absolutely no lag or approval process whatsoever. Within seconds the ad goes live and the stats start piling in.
4. You Decide What You Spend
The lowest bid you can enter to promote your Tweets and Account is $0.50. However, with optimization the final price you pay per follow and click can be lower than $0.50 also. You can’t yet run ads in your local currency. You can also decide your daily spend limit individually for Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts. I think this is a great feature. You can obviously keep track of how much you are spending for each Promoted Tweet and Account, as well as the total expenditure since the beginning. You can also keep track of how much money each of your Tweets are consuming and stop promoting a particular Tweet if you think it isn’t giving a chance for other tweets to be displayed.
I was extremely impressed by the performance of Promoted Tweets. The impressions and clicks start counting as soon you allocate a budget and initiate the promotion. It doesn’t take too much time to exhaust a small budget, maybe just a few minutes.
I was targeting my Tweets only to Indian users. Of nearly 11,0000 impressions, the Tweets I promoted, were clicked 227 times at a click rate of 2.07%, which I think was quite awesome because the click rate settled at this number after peaking close to 10%. However, I believe that the numbers would have been different if I was promoting a product or service, since the Tweets that I promoted were casual and generic.
I have been promoting my account in India for just over a month at extremely low daily spends and the lowest possible bid. In one month I have received 29,000 impressions of my account in the ‘Who to follow‘ section and 112 follows at a follow rate of 0.39%. Again, I must say the follow rate is much better than the rate at which I would acquire fans on Facebook; hence I am impressed again. I believe the follow rate may be much higher for well-known local or global brands as compared to my personal handle, which no one recognizes. This again simply means more bang for the advertisers buck.
6. Keep Your Eyes Open and you Finger on the Turn-Off Button
I’m not completely blaming Twitter for this, but ads can get uncontrollable even after you have set-up your daily budget. For example, I initiated an ad with a $1 budget, and it’s immediately displayed to approximately 400 users. Considering my average click rate, I have 8 people clicking on these ads. After the first two clicks, my budget is used up. But since the ad was already shown to 400 people, the other five clicked as well. That way, I get 5 extra clicks. And in spite of my budget being $1, I am charged around $3.
7. Observations and drawbacks
The targeting I believe can improve. For example, unlike Facebook, Linkedin or Google I can’t see the estimated number of people I am targeting with my ads. I also don’t know where my Promoted Tweets are being displayed and to what audience is my Promoted Account being shown. The logic that Twitter uses for the same is unclear. I would be much more comfortable if I were given an option to target my ads based on certain set of keywords or interests. I also don’t know if the Promoted Tweets are being shown to users who have already clicked on my Tweet once. There needs to be an option to choose how many times I want to show my Tweets to an individual user, whether clicked or not.
While this might be great for responsible advertisers, it can get out of hand and Twitter will need a very strong cleanup team if they are to continue with this.
The self-served ads module presently doesn’t allow the creation of campaigns. My overall expenditure is shown, but cannot be segregated into key messaging initiatives I undertake.
No advertising account or admin module
Unlike Facebook where I can add admins to my page, I cannot add admins to my Twitter handle. Because of this constraint, the advertising I run can only be run for my own handle and no other. This provides a major constraint for agencies managing multiple brands because they will then need to monitor each account separately without the convenience of a dashboard.
Facebook ads have a beautiful concept called social reach. It measures organic growth as a direct impact of advertising spends. Twitter should introduce a similar concept to measure replies and re-Tweets as a direct impact of running ads on Twitter, and integrate it with the analytics module of the self-served Twitter ads.
The introduction of self-served Twitter ads is a significant step in the social media universe. It will definitely change a lot of things when made publically available, and will provide advertisers with a great medium to advertise in competition to Facebook. However, Twitter will need to get everything absolutely spot on from day one. The stakes are high; its success or failure can have a significant impact on Twitter’s revenue and the entire social media ecosystem. For the meantime, expect a lot of comparisons and debates when this is made available, as from the look of it, Twitter seems to have an upper hand already!