Twitter has come a long way from its origins as Stephen Fry's message board. Just last week, for instance, Twitter was cited in a court case in which a man allegedly used the site to issue a joke bomb threat to blow up Doncaster Sheffield's Robin Hood Airport, while the US celeb Zachary Levi, the star of the show Chuck, was the latest altruistic big name to offer to Tweet in return for donations to charity.
Four years after its launch, Twitter describes itself as the best way to "see what the world is doing right now". And with 160 million registered global users, the site may have some genuine claim to this.
Twitter is mobilising itself to offer a greater range of ad solutions. It has started to court UK advertisers, including Sky, Sony and Vodafone, with details of its Promoted Tweet offer; last week, Amanda Levy, Twitter's sales director, was speaking at an event in London organised by the global marketing agency TBG Digital.
Levy described Twitter's new advertising offerings in detail and talked about rolling out a new-look Twitter.com: a redesigned site that makes greater use of embedded media such as images and videos.
1. The "new Twitter" has involved the site signing deals with 16 photoand video-sharing sites including Flickr and YouTube. It has also reached an agreement with search engines Bing, Yahoo! and Google that will involve them carrying Twitter search results. In terms of design, its new site (which is being gradually rolled out to users) sees the Twitter search box move to the top of the page and a space for embedded content on the right of the Twitter news feed (rather than having to navigate away from the site). Twitter hopes that this will create greater engagement and bolster revenues - reports suggest that Twitter is aiming for $140 million in revenue this year, spiralling to $1.5 billion by 2013.
2.; Twitter has recently hired a commercial team in the US. It is led by Adam Bain, the former president of Fox Audience Network, as president of global revenue, and the sales directors Levy and Brent Hill. Levy previously led ad sales for the US reviews site Yelp. Twitter's sales department is currently very US focused (65 per cent of its traffic is US-based), but its intention is to establish a sales presence in overseas markets (including the UK) by 2011, when Twitter will also look to offer geo-targeted campaigns by country.
3. In April, Twitter ended long speculation surrounding its revenue model with the launch of Promoted Tweets, which allows brands to pay to insert themselves in Twitter search results. Similar in nature to Google AdWords, paid-for Tweets appear at the top of search pages and are clearly labelled as promoted. Early users of Promoted Tweets included Starbucks and Virgin America.
4. Twitter claimed last week that its ad offering is based around "relevance, real time and resonance". Ads are only delivered to relevant consumers, Levy claims. "Our number-one priority is to keep users happy," she says, perhaps aware of critics who have suggested that over-commercialisation of the site will drive away traffic. It is putting a system in place that ensures targeted ads go to the most relevant people in real time and, if consumers don't engage with the Promoted Tweets, they will stop running. Promoted Tweets, which has so far been tested with 30 core advertisers, is rolling out more widely in the fourth quarter of this year.
5. Twitter's latest offer is Promoted Trends, which enable advertisers to tap into trending topics. Alongside Twitter's list of the top ten trending topics, a further, 11th, spot has been made available for an ad-placed trend topic. This has so far been tested by the likes of Disney and the NBA in the US, and Twitter claims the spot is useful for product launches or to promote events.
Old Spice used a Promoted Trend to push awareness of its Isaiah Mustafa-fronted commercials.
6. Finally, Twitter is offering advertisers its "dashboard" service, which provides reams of data in real time on how Promoted Tweets and Trends are performing. For instance, it can show additional followers brought in by Promoted Tweets and, in a worst-case scenario, the number of "unfollowers" when a promoted Tweet goes wrong, allowing advertisers to identify which activity is resonating most with their audience.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Twitter admits that its offer to advertisers is relatively under-developed. For instance, it only established a dedicated commercial team in recent weeks.
- While on one level its ad solutions are complex - offering targeting by profile and in real time - Twitter offers little in the way of geographical targeting outside the US. Currently advertisers can only buy global campaigns, and UK advertisers have to deal with Twitter's US sales force.
- However, on the flip side, it remains relatively cheap, in cost-per-thousand terms, to buy Twitter campaigns, and Twitter argues that over time it will learn. Amanda Levy, its sales director, said last week in London: "This is all at its most basic, but will become more sophisticated."
- Twitter's syndication of its search results to Bing, Yahoo! and Google should provide greater inventory for advertisers looking for scale in their search activity.
- The new-look Twitter.com will offer users a more prominent search service and "embedded media" such as video content, which means that users won't have to navigate outside Twitter to access this content. Twitter argues that this will improve the user experience and it hopes, as it looks to bolster revenues, that users will spend more time logged onto the site.
- Users will undoubtedly notice greater levels of commercial messaging with both Tweets and Trends now open to advertisers. Early advocates of Twitter argue that this could spoil the user experience. However, Twitter counters that all advertising messages are clearly separated from other content and only relevant messages are served to users.