Five marketers’ questions Twitter must answer after its IPO

Twitter began trading on the New York Stock Exchange today (7 November), with shares priced at $26 each, valuing the company at more than $18bn. Twitter’s regulatory filings make clear the company is almost entirely reliant on advertisers to drive future growth, but the industry still has a few bones to pick with the social network which could be preventing them from spending more on its sponsored slots.


Why aren’t you giving us more support?

While Twitter continues to staff up across all regions as its user base and advertiser numbers grow, its payroll is decidedly smaller than the likes of Facebook and Google. That said, Twitter ads have only been available for three years, so the social network could perhaps be forgiven for not providing consultancy-like services to every marketer.

But marketers are a demanding bunch. A recent Forrester study of 395 marketers in the US, UK and Canada found just 55 per cent of companies that market on Twitter said they are satisfied with the business value they achieve on the platform and only 44 per cent of marketers say they are satisfied with Twitter as a partner.

Nate Elliott, Forrester’s vice president and principal analyst, says: “Marketers say they need more guidance, education, service and support if they’re going to use Twitter successfully.”

Twitter’s IPO filings saw the company admit it needed to resource additional time and resources towards education if it is to secure advertisers’ long-term commitment.  Twitter UK, in particular, has run a series of events and published a range of case studies and how-to guides for marketers over the past year or so, but it clearly still has work to do globally.

Can you offer us new ad formats?

Just like the, short 140-character nature of tweets themselves, Twitter’s ad formats tick the box for brevity. Currently marketers can choose between just three options: sponsored tweets, sponsored accounts or sponsored trends – which can feel limiting compared to the formats offered by the likes of broadcasters on TV on demand, YouTube and Facebook.

In July Twitter revealed it is to offer brands targeted ad formats based on users’ browsing behaviour and their own customer databases, its acquisition of Vine signalled to some industry experts that video ad formats may be on their way – but marketers are keen to see other concepts too.

Eden Zoller, principal analyst at Ovum, says the format constraints that make Twitter such a dynamic and immediate service also limit its ability to innovate compared with its rivals.

She adds: “Twitter has a difficult balancing act whereby it must introduce new ad formats into the Twitter stream without compromising the user experience. If it fails to get this right it will jeopardize user engagement and with it advertising spend. At the same time, investing in new service and advertising features will also push up costs, which if not carefully controlled will further impact Twitter’s ability to generate profits.”

How can we prove to our finance directors Twitter works?

Steve Parker, partner of social media agency The Social Practice, believes every brand on Twitter – not just those using promoted products – should be given access to an improved analytics dashboard so they can get a better view of impressions, engagement rates and optimise their targeting to suit.

He adds: “I would imagine lots of brands are finding it difficult to justify paid media spend on Twitter and opening up the insights would encourage better use and the media spend would follow. Marketers are being forced to supplement their measurement with third party tools that often have limited access to manage their accounts which makes for an inconsistent experience.”

In March Twitter overhauled its ad platform to give advertisers a more complete picture of how users are engaging with content in real-time and has made a number of hires and acquisitions to strengthen its analytics arm.

But in this ever-accountable environment, marketers can never have enough data and any efforts to provide them with more analytics is likely to improve the effectiveness of their campaigns, with additional spend sure to follow.

How can we turn tweets into purchases?

In February Twitter formed a partnership with American Express to allow its customers to buy gift cards and products by tweeting using special hashtags. 

Alex Tait, former director of international digital acquisition at American Express, says ecommerce is one of the areas that could be developed more to the benefit of advertisers.

He adds: “Twitter has the potential to develop further its proposition to be the modern day equivalent of the most effective form of marketing: word of mouth.”

Twitter’s updated interface, which now features image preview, could serve as a powerful tool for retailers looking to drive direct sales from the platform. Social commerce appears to be an untapped opportunity for marketers on Twitter. A recent study by Acquity Group found nearly 16 per cent of consumers have purchased a product after seeing it on social media, and almost a third (32 per cent) of smartphone owners would be open to trying it.

What are you doing to stop our content appearing against offensive material?

Twitter has been a champion of free speech ever since its inception, helping it become the platform for everyone from civil liberty advocates, political protesters in Tahrir Square to the everyday ranter.

However, a laissez-faire approach to censorship can come at a price. Twitter came under fire this summer for the way it counters – or chose not to tackle – abuse on the site. Campaigners drew attention to the repeated rape and death threats they had received on the site, a movement which led to Twitter updating the systems it uses to cut out tweets that violate its rules.

The processes apparently do not go far enough. One senior media owner executive told Marketing Week that popular hashtags around its content are often littered with offensive content and racist abuse. He wants Twitter to invest in more people and algorithms to prevent such hijacks happening in future.

The problem is exacerbated again by the simplicity of Twitter’s service: its registration process asks merely for an unverifiable “full name” and email address, meaning users can often hide behind anonymous virtual masks and go on to pen unsavoury tweets.

Of course, this is a problem that affects the entire online marketplace. Just yesterday (6 November) Marketing Week reported trade bodies representing brands and online advertisers in the UK are edging closer to an agreement on the self-regulation of the automated trading sector, a move designed to assure marketers their brands won’t be placed beside inappropriate content.