Feature

Medium of the Year 2013: Twitter

With an IPO and major commercial partnerships with Publicis Groupe and WPP under its belt, 2013 was the year that Twitter grew up. What a shame those pesky trolls didn't follow suit.

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We have been here before. Twitter was named Campaign’s Medium of the Year in 2009 after first bursting on to the social and political scene, but at a time when it was not offering any advertising (quite a forward-thinking stance for an advertising magazine, you might think). Twitter was connecting people – all sorts of people – in a new way. Yes, the platform went down with regularity in the first half of 2009, but it also offered users a way to find out about serious things that were happening in the world, such as Trafigura’s super-injunction and the riots in Iran, as well as what Stephen Fry and Demi Moore were having for dinner.

How things have changed. Or not. Peaches Geldof, now a mother, is still there, but she has been joined by the likes of Cara Delevingne and One Direction. However, Twitter is not merely a means to read about and engage with celebrities, it is now fully ensconced as the default way to track breaking news stories, as many did during the Westgate shopping-centre siege in Kenya, and after the Boston Marathon bombings and the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. In reflection of this role in disseminating news – and lies – Twitter developed a system of alerts this year, allowing users to receive posts from accredited organisations to counter misinformation.

That is not to say that it has all been plain sailing on the "content" front this year. Twitter was widely criticised this summer when the journalist Caroline Criado-Perez received abuse after campaigning successfully for the Bank of England to put a woman on UK bank notes. "Trolling" became a massive issue as TV news outlets and others led with the death threats received by prominent female journalists. Twitter was slammed for dragging its heels, but the micro-blogging network eventually addressed the issue, thanks in part to the suggestions of the then sales director, Bruce Daisley.

Globally, 2013 was the year Twitter signed major partnerships with groups such as Publicis and WPP. The Publicis Groupe announcement coincided with the Cannes Lions festival, prompting much debate and commentary. For the groups to sign public global deals with a single media owner raised questions about impartiality and media neutrality, but the partnerships were great for Twitter. They demonstrated that the brand was being taken seriously. Buoyed by its increasing commerciality, if not yet the emergence of any profit, Twitter prepared for, and then held, its IPO.

Last year, the big tech IPO was Facebook. After much fanfare, Facebook’s stock-market launch was beset by difficulties. Nasdaq had computer glitches on the first day, delaying its opening. The big banks had to buy shares to keep the price up and then the cost of Facebook shares actually dropped. Indeed, Facebook only returned to its IPO price in July this year. With that in mind, it was sensible for Twitter to be cautious. Twitter’s share value soared 75 per cent from its offer price of $26 on its first day of trading, generating lots of money for those who got in early (though suggesting its owners could have made more from the off).

In the UK, Daisley’s arrival as Twitter’s sales director at the start of 2012 instigated the ramping up of its sales offer. Since then, the main Promoted Tweets, Accounts and Trends formats have been used by brands from HTC to British Airways. Twitter’s global revenue per user increased fourfold over the past year and the UK is said to be the best-performing market. Initiatives including #twitterforbrands and publications such as #themoment have helped UK agencies get the most out of the medium. As a reward for his success, Daisley was promoted to country manager (in effect, managing di­rector) of Twitter UK in September, providing an opportunity for the likeable head of agency sales, Dara Nasr, to also step up.

The opportunity Twitter offers brands is much more complex than simply promoted products, however. The ability for the public to respond to, and interact with, ads in real time has changed the way advertising agencies think about creative. Twitter played a major role in two of the most high-profile Christmas ad campaigns – John Lewis and Marks & Spencer. M&S gave Twitter users the chance to name the dog owned by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in its lavish Christmas spot, while John Lewis kicked off its festive push with a teaser campaign featuring the hashtag #sleepingbear.

This was the year Twitter became part of the mainstream. It is a listed company, it has a world-class sales team and it forms part of all major marketing campaigns. For those reasons, Twitter is our Medium of the Year.

Recent winners: ITV (2012); The Guardian (2011); London Evening Standard (2010); Twitter (2009); Dave (2008)

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