Today (21 March) marks 10 years since the first tweet; now more than 500 million are posted every day. While Twitter remains the go-to destination for brands and users looking for real-time information, it must convince both that it can be more than just a social network and link to people’s interests.
From the hashtag to the promoted ad product, Twitter has been a major player in the social media revolution that has turned modern marketing on its head. Where once brands had to broadcast their message and hope it reached the right audience, now they can target individuals and start a two-way conversation.
Yet on its 10th anniversary Twitter faces challenges in staying at the forefront of a fast changing media landscape. User growth has stalled and it faces issues over usability.
But UK MD Dara Nasr says new CEO Jack Dorsey now has a long-term strategy in place to ensure Twitter grows both users and advertisers. And it revolves around positioning Twitter as an “interest network” not just a social network.
Pivoting the Twitter brand
Twitter has made a name for itself as the source of real-time conversations. Any big world event or news – whether that be the Paris terrorist attacks or the FIFA World Cup – is detailed first on Twitter.
“It’s amazing to see just how important Twitter is in the conversations, cultural moments and news events that are going on around the world,” says eMarketer’s principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson. “Twitter is still unique in its ability to be the resource of choice when something important happens. Its real-time nature is still its biggest strength.”
Yet there is a disconnect between Twitter’s importance as a news source and usage rates. Anthony Noto, its CTO who until recently was in charge of marketing as well, highlighted that while Twitter has 90% awareness, only around 30% of online adults in the US the site every month.
That figure is even lower in the UK. According to eMarketer, 25.5% of internet users accessed Twitter at least once a month in 2015, although that proportion is expected to increase to 30.4% in 2020.
Dara Nasr, Twitter’s UK managing director, believes that having such a high brand awareness puts Twitter in a “privileged position” and gives it the opportunity to increase usage. It plans to do that by better explaining its role as an ‘interest network’ rather than a social network and through highlighting all the topics that people are talking about on Twitter.
He explains: “Twitter is the shortest distance between you and what you are passionate about. If you are an Arsenal fan but you aren’t at the game you can see things breaking on Twitter. Or you could be a movie fan or music fan or into gardening or books. We have 500 million tweets a day so pretty much every subject is covered. What we want to do is bring that to the fore.”
In the US, Twitter recently launched its first TV ad campaign aiming to do just that by targeting sports fans. A similar campaign is expected in the UK after Twitter appointed Lucky Generals to come up with creative for this market.
Innovating in advertising
Twitter was the first social network to come up with a promoted ad product. Launched in April 2010, the promoted tweet was a big change from the banner ad that was popular at the time, and its success led Twitter to launch promoted trends, promoted accounts and most recently promoted moments.
“There was a big gap between the day Twitter started and when it launched an ad product because we wanted to make the right ad product.”
Dara Nasr, UK MD, Twitter
Our users are really passionate and engage with other people’s tweets and we wanted brands to be able to have that engagement. It was important to develop a product that was very much in line with the organic product.”
Nasr claims Twitter’s engagement levels are still much higher than digital advertising averages. He says Twitter sees engagement rates of between 1% and 3% on its ads, far above typical online display rates of 0.07%.
Key to maintaining brands’ interest in advertising on Twitter is “continued investment in the capabilities and communications that support its pivot to be an interest network,” says Forrester marketing analyst Erna Alfred Liousas.
Nasr says he can promise brands “ increased innovation and further sophistication of products” in particular around targeting and analytics. The ability to target by keyword or interest has “really helped advertisers that have a very tight plan really speak to the people they want to,” he adds, as have insight tools such as ‘football fans are also interested in these topics’.
Event planning is also a focus, with Nasr keen to “bring to the fore” the constant rumble of conversation. Video is key to that. Over the past three years Twitter has invested in improving its video offering through innovations such as Periscope and Vine as well as tools that strengthen its own offering including auto-play. And Nasr claims video is helping improve ad engagement by between two and seven times.
The battle for user engagement
Twitter has also had a major impact on marketing, particularly in the areas of reactive, real-time and customer service. Hannah Beesley, social director at creative agency Iris Worldwide, highlights how events such as Oreo’s blackout ad during the Super Bowl in 2013 “woke brands up to the power of joining the conversation” and the risks.
Peter Markey, CMO at the Post Office, says Twitter is a vital part of the marketing mix because of its openness and transparency. “For many customers Twitter is the place they vote with their feet on your brand and lay bare whether you have delivered your brand promise or not.
“Twitter reminds all good marketers that your brand has to be authentic. In short, no stylish campaign can hide the raw truth that customers reveal about your brand.”
Peter Markey, CMO, Post Office
Nasr sees customer support and customer service as one of the big growth areas for Twitter. From day one brands were on platform offering assistance to customers, but Twitter is now looking at ways to work with brands on bringing that to life.
In the US, Apple recently started using Twitter for customer support and while there is nothing particularly unusual in that, Nasr suggests the account is a partnership between Apple and Twitter and to expect more innovation. He also suggests there could be ways to monetise this, but admits it is “early days”.
For Markey, attracting consumers and keeping up in the battle for their time will be key. “Social media and our use and expectations of it will continue to evolve, and Twitter must evolve too. For marketers, the desire to draw customers closer to their brands will only intensify further and Twitter must keep in step. Beyond sponsored tweets and vines, what more can they do to take engagement to the next level? I hope we’ll find out soon.”