Is Twitter Advertising Effective? Exploring the Pros and Cons

By Matt Weltz | Nov 21, 2013
More Articles by Matt


Twitter's IPO at the NY Stock ExchangeAs an investor and a marketer, the recent Twitter IPO has had me intrigued. What is the perceived value of one share of Twitter, and how valuable are social media companies as a whole? When I’m 80 will my grandchildren favorite my Tweet about “Those darn kids r in my yard again! #middaynap”? Or are millions of investors essentially trading a fad?

With these thoughts in mind I set out to investigate the positives, negatives, and potential of Twitter as an advertising platform.

I recently explored the Twitter advertising interface. Overall I found the various targeting abilities to be more impressive then I had expected for such a young platform. One of the main ways to target users on Twitter is by showing them ads when they mention a specific keyword or phrase. This method for earning revenue is an homage to the Google AdWords interface, and has proven to be a successful model for the top search engines. As a marketer working for an agency, I can see the potential to reach my target market based on their search queries, and have had extensive experience doing just that on platforms like Google and Bing.

Twitter Ads Interface: Target by User

In addition to keyword targeting, you can also market to potential customers by targeting followers of a particular user. For example, let’s say that I was going to promote this blog post on Twitter. To target active online marketers, I took three influential people in the search engine optimization industry (Matt Cutts, Rand Fishkin and Danny Sullivan) and targeted their followers. As you can see in the image below, with just those three influencers I was able to reach an estimated audience of two million. This ability to target markets based on the industry’s influencers presents a unique way to advertise and has a lot of potential for success in the hands of creative marketing teams.

As opposed to some of the previously mentioned targeting abilities on Twitter, the ability to target users by interest has significant room to improve. While the available interest categories could be useful to some advertisers, there are only a handful of categories and subcategories to choose from. The categories list must be expanded to provide much greater detail to be truly effective. For example, if I wanted to continue to target online marketers, I would have liked to target by the interest “social media” or “social media marketing.” However, at present the closest I could get to this refined targeting was to broadly target “marketers.” Once these categories are expanded this type of advertising could be very successful, but until then it may be too broad a net to cast for many advertisers.

Social Media Advertising Search on Twitter

Business Marketing for Social Media

While overall the fledgling Twitter interface is farther along than I had expected, I still see one major flaw. Currently, Google shows ads on billions of searches each day based on keyword targeting. Bing is trying to catch up by doing relatively the same thing, but to date Google still has a significant lead with a nearly 67% market share. The reason that social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn have seen their stock prices, along with their profits, grow rapidly over the last few months is largely due to their ability to conduct pin-point targeting – specifically, targeting by demographics and interests for Facebook, and by professional field and skills for LinkedIn. While Twitter is an extremely successful social media platform that has acquired millions of followers, I believe their challenge going forward will be to gain a competitive advantage over Google if they can’t narrow their targeting. The ability to target followers of top users is a good start, and broadening the scope of the interest targeting should help as well, but the inability to target by certain demographics may prevent it from gaining those key elements that make the idea of social media marketing so enticing to ROI-focused marketers.

Despite this challenge, Twitter advertising has a bright future. With the vast volumes of traffic on the site, the opportunities for interaction with potential customers are boundless. It will be interesting to see how the advertising platform evolves over the next few years, and even more interesting to see if we are all still tweeting well into our golden years.

What has your experience been with advertising on Twitter or other social media advertising platforms? Comment below or tweet me. @El_Mattador101

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