Thank you for an incredible 10 years. We can't wait to see what you Tweet next.
— Twitter UK (@TwitterUK) March 21, 2016
“When we’re looking back over the past 10 years, the main takeaway is that when anything big happens it breaks on Twitter. The platform has given a voice not just to celebrities but also to users, brands, broadcasters and publishers. It has led a quantum change in how the world communicates. We have been blown away by it.”
That is Nasr’s opening gambit on the unique position Twitter holds in the media landscape. The first tweet was sent out 10 years ago today (21 March) and now more than 500 million are sent every single day.
Nasr joined Twitter’s UK team from Google in November 2012. That was little more than a year after Twitter opened its UK office. Up until then consumers and brands had been free to use Twitter – to create accounts, tweet, provide customer support – but there were no commercial opportunities.
That soon changed and in the UK, Sky was the first to advertise on the site with a promoted tweet for the new series of popular TV show Glee. BP, Paramount, EA Games and Eurostar were not far behind and within a year of opening the office 140 companies had advertised on the platform.
Nasr explained there was a “big gap” between Twitter’s launch and the introduction of ad product because the company wanted to develop “the right ad product”.
“When you think of Twitter as a user there are tweets, trends and suggestions on who to follow. What we did was extend that into the promoted tweet, trend or account. And what we’ve seen on the back of that is it’s not intrusive, it is very clearly promoted and with our targeting it is allows brands to get real prominence and visibility,” he explained.
That is all well and good but what about effectiveness? Nasr claims Twitter performs well on this front too. He claimed typical engagement rates on Twitter are between 1% and 3%. The average for online display is 0.07%. Plus the increasing focus on images and video at Twitter is increasing ad engagement by between two times and seven times, according to Nasr.
Yet Twitter is struggling to keep up with rivals. Its display ad revenues are expected to hit £164.7m this year, rising to £267.6m in 2018 and giving it an increasing share of the UK display ad market, according to eMarketer. But that is well behind Facebook’s £1.14bn in revenues and 32.1% share.
Growing its ad business is a big priority for Twitter as it looks to prove its business model amid growing concern from shareholders that growth is slowing and other social media sites, such as Instagram and Snapchat, are poised to take more revenues.
That will involve making advertising on the site as easy to use as possible. In the beginning, the nature of the Twitter platform meant brands often had to create bespoke campaigns for the site.
Now, however, Nasr said brands can launch a TV or print campaign and use the same creative on Twitter. And Twitter sees its role as a “bridge” between media channels.
“Twitter celebrates media. We talk about TV and Twitter, Twitter is a bridge rather than an island. We think other media is great and we complement TV, print, radio. The mobile device is phenomenally important and if you look at mobile as a vertical media channel that is a bit of an error. Twitter plays a phenomenal role in amplifying traditional channels,” he added.
The long-term plan
Nasr would not be drawn on Twitter UK’s revenues, saying only that the business is in a “very healthy position because advertisers understand the value of it and get a lot of value back”. However he admitted Twitter still has a job to do in explaining its role beyond big events such as The Oscars and how brands can reach consumers amid the “constant rumble of conversation”.
“We consider ourselves as much an interest network as we do a social network. We often say it’s the shortest distance between you and what you are passionate about.”
Dara Nasr, UK MD, Twitter
“If you are an Arsenal fan but you are not at the game you can see things breaks on Twitter. Or you could be a movie fan or a music fan or into gardening or books. We have 500 million tweets a day so pretty much every subject is covered,” he explains.
Some of those tweets, however, are ruining Twitter. Barely a week goes by without a story of a Twitter storm or trolls targeting specific users. Nasr recognises the importance of the issue and said the safety of its users is key. He points to the introduction of tools to allow users to block and report abusive accounts “at the touch of a button”.
“We will carry on taking that incredibly seriously,” he added.
In fact security is one of the pillars of Twitter’s newly laid out strategy, implemented following Jack Dorsey’s reinstatement as CEO. Nasr said Twitter is now taking a much longer term view, focused around making the product easier, video and working with developers and creators.
“We are seeing a lot of innovation all the time but it has really helped focus the mind on where we are going both from a consumer standpoint and as an ad product,” he explained.
Twitter’s ‘privileged position
That should also help Twitter explain its brand better. The company has previously admitted there is a big lag between the proportion of people that have heard of Twitter and the proportion that use it, in part because people don’t understand how it is relevant to them or how to use it.
And its user growth is slowing. According to its latest quarterly figures, monthly active users were down to 305 million, a drop from the 307 million it attracted in the previous quarter and the first time it has seen a decrease.
However Nasr actually thinks that Twitter holds a “privileged position” because there is a huge audience just waiting for a reason to use the platform, Twitter just needs to give it to them.
“When a big event happens it really draws people to Twitter but actually it’s not just about those big events. If more people understand that and see their passions come alive on the platform they will understand how it’s for them.
“The small stories that bubble up through Twitter are just as great as the big cultural pieces.”
Dara Nasr, UK MD, Twitter
Selling Twitter to marketers
That is also a concept that Twitter needs to sell to marketers. For as many brands as understand Twitter there are others that need its value explained, although Nasr said over the last two years “brands are really starting to get it”.
“Brands can see the level of conversation going on and they start seeing that and understanding you can plan for these events. There are a finite amount of outcomes to a football match – win, lose or draw, someone gets sent off, a goal – brands can plan around those eventualities and its very easy to do so. They are starting to see the impact of that and we are trying to make it easier for them to do so,” he said.
— Twitter UK (@TwitterUK) March 21, 2016
So what comes next? Improved targeting and analytics are big points of focus to help brands “really speak to the people they want to” and understand best practice for newer ad products such as moments.
Customer service is also of interest. Nasr said Twitter is still in its “infancy” in terms of working with brands on this but has a partnership with Apple for its new customer support Twitter account and Nasr suggests there could be opportunities to monetise here.
The key message, said Nasr, is that Twitter “gets brands closer to their audience”.
“What we can promise is increased innovation and further sophistication of our products, targeting and analytics. There is something for everyone on Twitter, whatever your passion or interest is. It’s a massive opportunity for brands to be part of that conversation and that is something we are hugely excited about over the next 10 years,” he concludes.