Siliconcowboy's Blog

Technology, journalism, social media and social responsibility

Twitter IS an Ad Network

Twitter should just bite the bullet and start posting ads.

Promoted Tweets are fine, if you have the resources to exploit them. Promoted Trends? Same thing. The bottom line is, to be effective, anything “Promoted” on Twitter has to be pretty freaking big, usually including the budget behind it.  Which means bringing in a lot more than just advertising.

So, if Twitter really wants to make ad revenue, it should just start selling space.

Let me back up a bit and explain my thinking.

Earlier today, noted social media guru Brian Solis posted a blog on the effectiveness of advertising on Twitter.  His title, which was meant to be a pun of sorts, was “Twitter Promoted to Ad Network.”

The basic premise of his blog was that, when Ev Williams passed control of Twitter to Dick Costolo, doing so changed the game for Twitter. No longer a startup, Twitter is now at a stage where it must create revenue. And advertising seems to be its clearest shot at money creation.

Brian then went on to explain that Twitter is already headed down this road with Promoted Tweets, Promoted Trends, and support both of these programs on third party networks such as HootSuite.

I am certain Brian is correct: Promoted Tweets, Promoted Trends and third party support are a great way to create a revenue stream for Twitter.  But there are two things that stand in the way of really making this rock.

First, most companies don’t understand how to use these vehicles. A Promoted Tweet or Promoted Trend is really only effective if it is used in connection with something much larger, such as a movie debut or, as Brian pointed out, an ad series such as the Old Spice campaign. When used in this manner, it can be highly effective in generating commentary which further proliferates the knowledge and visibility of the event or product. Without that larger campaign, though, the Promoted Tweet or Promoted Trend is a huge waste of money and effort. Without “legs”, it just doesn’t go anywhere.

Right away, another point should be obvious: these promoted vehicles are the playground of very large brands. And they probably will remain such.

Second, smaller companies and individual brands see Twitter a little differently. Okay, a lot differently. To them, Twitter IS an ad network – not, as many would have us believe, a conversation medium. I’ve been saying this for many months, and I believe it’s finally starting to sink in.

The whole reason home workers, rock stars, bloggers, groups, authors, fashionistas and many, many others use Twitter is because it’s an extremely efficient, FREE advertising medium.

Think of it; I can post my blog and 160 million people have immediate access to it by simply clicking on a link.

Or, I can say something tantalizing about a rock star’s tattoo, and the same number of people can click my link to see a Flickr photo of it.

What better ad network are you ever going to find?

Need proof? I go back to my favorite example, American rapper Nicki Minaj. She’s got millions of fans, she’s sung multiple duets with Mariah Carey and she’s known to kids everywhere.

Why? Because she has thousands of Twitter followers who are ready to trend her to the top of the Twitter charts in a moment’s notice.  She got that through a lot of hard work and clever gimmicks, but make no mistake: for Nicki, Twitter is a serious promotion vehicle. She a rising star, and she hasn’t even put out debut album yet.

Of course, the advertising pros will tell you that, to do it right, you need to be able to measure the reach, effectiveness and retention of your network, and that  you need to nail down your target audience.  And in a sense, yes, they are absolutely right. So, if you really need that, you can call upon an advertising expert, or you can upload a bunch of third-party apps and put together an analytics program of your own, as many do.

But for many other users, those details are just not that important. In fact, a good number of Tweeters figure out what they are doing pretty well, through trial and error. Those who don’t – and they probably make up the vast majority – still manage to pass along a lot of content in the process.

Knowing this, it’s clear to me why Twitter can’t figure out how to monetize the product.  They just haven’t realized that everything anyone Tweets is already a form of advertising or promotion. Promoted Tweets are just about trying to climb to the top of the heap.

That’s why I maintained a long time ago that Hovercards could have been a great Twitter advertising vehicle, because even smaller companies could put a graphically interesting ad campaign right on it, for anyone to see whenever they hover over your Twitter handle, and a link to your campaign page. (Of course, Twitter missed that opportunity; Hovercards are now a free app, like everything else.)

The point is, what a user says in 140 characters IS a form of promotion, not a form of conversation.

Even hashtag “conversations” are really mostly about associating brands with a highly visible activity. Have you ever tried to make sense of what happens in these dialogs? It’s a mish-mash of crosstalk, rather like trying to have three or four simultaneous conversations, each with a time delay of a couple of minutes and an incredible amount of redundancy and misunderstanding. How is that functional?

I’ll tell you how. The dozen or so most prolific Tweeters get about 30 minutes of perceived credibility having a “conversation” with a Twitter guru.

The elephant in the middle of the room is this: As a conversation vehicle, Twitter is terrible.

Does Twitter promote engagement? Absolutely, yes.

And it does so in almost the same way that old-school advertising does: by drawing you in with a tantalizing remark, made by a well-known pitch man or woman, to get you to simply click on a link.  That’s all.

The only difference is that today, everybody gets a shot at being the pitch man.

So how does Twitter monetize that?

Just put up some ads. Monetize the ads based on trends, which are really just a list of real-time analytics anyway. Advertisers know how to use these to great advantage. Throw in geolocation and user profiles, and you’ve got a decent framework for even scrupulous advertisers.

Bottom line: Throw up the old ad formats and start selling.

Everybody else does.

About these ads

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This entry was posted on October 19, 2010 by in Tech Trends.
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