Should you advertise on Twitter?

Advertising on Twitter? What could possibly go wrong? I must admit, had the email from Twitter’s ever-optimistic marketing department not arrived while I was eating a Breakaway bar, I’d have probably binned it.

Should you advertise on Twitter?

As it was, the invitation to try its new Ads system provided the perfect excuse to extend my chocolate break while pretending to work. I’m glad I did, since it turned out to be rather interesting.

It’s hardly a coincidence that Twitter’s new advertising system launched in the UK days after the company went public; it’s a profit-making morsel to toss to its new shareholders.

It’s hardly a coincidence that Twitter’s new advertising system launched in the UK days after the company went public – it’s a profit-making morsel to toss to its new shareholders.

At first glance, it offers the same promotional options as Facebook, but with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Like its giant competitor, Twitter offers ad services to all its users – you don’t need a commercial account or a verified address – but Facebook only allows advertising to be created on behalf of Pages.

Whether this will become a problem remains to be seen, but I can’t shake the feeling that giving the power of global promotion to any teenager with his dad’s credit card might be a disaster waiting to happen.

Twitter offers two campaign types to its smaller advertisers: you can either promote your account to increase your follower count, or base your ads around an individual tweet. The idea of spending money simply to increase the number of people willing to receive my tweets makes my skin crawl; it’s the ultimate vanity project.

Twitter ads

If you can demonstrate that each new devotee is expected to generate a profit, fair enough, but the vast majority of marketers don’t bother to work this out; if they did, I expect they’d be unable to justify the expense. I’ve calculated how much cash the average fan of my online retailer’s Facebook Page brings in, and as a result I rarely advertise on social media, since the cost per acquisition is too high.

Although I have a good idea of how much it costs me to attract a Facebook fan for a Page, I don’t know the equivalent figure for Twitter. If it turns out I can acquire followers for fractions of a penny each, it might be worth trying, considering there’s so little at stake. The only way to find out was to run a test.

The tweet-promotion campaign type has greater prima facie appeal, since it can be linked directly to a wider range of more valuable marketing outcomes.

For example, your tweet could contain a direct link to a product, a sales page or an email sign-up form. In fact, tweets are essentially text ads, with many of the same features and opportunities offered by Google AdWords. So I decided to test both a follower-acquisition campaign and promoted tweets – with mixed results.

Setting up a campaign

The simplest way to get started is by visiting http://ads.twitter.com.

After you’ve selected your country and time zone, Twitter asks which of the two campaign types you’d like to start with; since the promoted account type is simpler to set up, I started there. Once it’s set up, your Twitter account will appear in various places when users are looking for people to follow – in other words, a “promoted” account will appear before those that aren’t paid for. You pay only if a user actually follows you as a result of seeing the promoted suggestion.

All the ad settings are configured via a setup page, which Twitter pre-populates with defaults (you’ll want to change almost all of them if you don’t want to impoverish yourself). I had a fixed budget of £15 in mind for each experiment, so I constrained my spending by setting an expiry date three days hence; Twitter would prefer I kept it running forever.

Targeted accounts

The system allows you to target followers of other accounts, so if you were promoting sports equipment, you might choose football clubs, for example.

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