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Twitter’s future and what it means for brands

5 min read

Marketing Strategy

Since the announcement of its IPO in November 2013, Twitter has been highly scrutinized for its lack of user growth, but in the past few months, the platform has been shaking things up.

As a result of its newly introduced targeting capabilities, the possibility of an algorithmic timeline, a heightened focus on direct response, and what seems like a new wave of second-screen experiences, marketers have all eyes on Twitter.

1. Targeting

This August, the platform unveiled a new objective-based sales model, which allows marketers to optimize and pay for campaigns based on actions that align with their marketing objectives, making the platform more efficient than ever before. Objectives include: followers (community growth, fan acquisition), clicks and conversions, engagements, app installs and app engagements, and lead generation. This sales model comes shortly after Twitter released new CTA ad units, such as Download App and its Buy button. Although currently only available to the platform’s SMB and API partners, the new sales model is expected to roll out to clients over the next few months.

While some may view this as purely an effort to woo marketers in hopes of gaining a larger piece of the digital pie, the new targeting capabilities on Twitter may actually impact how marketers allocate their funds in rest of 2014 and beyond, which would have otherwise gone to social media giant Facebook. (It is projected that Facebook will get 10% of U.S. digital-ad spending in 2014.)

In addition to the objective-based sales model, last week Twitter also announced the expansion of its tailored audiences capabilities, which will allow marketers to easily create consumer segments through e-mail addresses (CRM audiences) and mobile telephone numbers. This type of targeting will be ideal for brands looking to swoop in on consumers at a certain phase in the product or brand cycle and will likely be quickly adopted by retailers, as well as brands that rely on membership.

2. Facebook-Twitter convergence

Loyal Twitter users are in uproar over murmurs over a Facebook-like algorithm on Twitter. Twitter has indicated that it is looking to cease the reverse chronological order feed, in favor a more targeted content-serving algorithm.

Over the past two to three months, the arms race between Facebook and Twitter to become more like each other has become clear. As Twitter looks to adopt an algorithmic approach, Facebook coincidentally announced this week that its algorithm will give more weight to timely content, pushing the most relevant content to the top of users’ feeds.

Earlier this year, we saw loyal Foursquare users up in arms over the forced adoption of Swarm. And the backlash is nothing new for Twitter. In April 2014, the platform announced a Facebook-like profile redesign, which was not well-received at first.

Nevertheless, the adoption of an algorithm will not likely force loyal users to abandon their accounts. In fact, Twitter has been slowly introducing new types of content into the feed for a while now — threaded conversations, retweets, promoted content, and most recently, content from users who your followers follow, all which do not align with the reverse chronological order users are used to seeing with organic content.

In efforts to reduce friction and lessen the barrier for new and casual users, the algorithm will likely extend the platform’s reach, which Twitter needs to find success with in order to compete with Facebook. However, Twitter should proceed with caution as it changes the feed. After getting some heat for its most recent feed update, it’s clear that transparency is key to satisficing loyal users, as well as heavily invested brands.

The biggest implication of a Twitter algorithm will be understanding the way content is served and optimizing for that. As of now, it’s unclear what kind of content will come out on top — seasonal, evergreen, timely, what have you. While unclear, paired with its recently announced targeting capabilities, brands may find it easier reach their key audiences on Twitter. It’s unlikely that Twitter will rush into the space, but rather, we will likely see incremental changes to the Feed, based on precise data and learnings the platform has gathered in recent years.

Perhaps the adoption of an algorithm will help bring meaning back to the Trending Topic, which popularized Twitter (with the help of hashtags) in the first place.

E-commerce and direct response

Twitter has also taken particular focus to e-commerce and direct response, most notably with its new ad unit options — in particular, the testing of its new “Buy” button, which allows users to make purchases directly through Twitter, rather than driving to a retailer’s site. Paired with its new conversion objective targeting option, retailers and marketers now have the ability to prove true ROI for brands.

This focus on e-commerce, over previous strategic goals of brand awareness or equity building, will likely impact marketers’ platform strategies and their approach to the social space. Marketers may want to think about traditional forms of direct response and possibly look to email marketing in order glean learnings on what will deliver the best returns.

Twitter-TV possibilities

Twitter has renewed focus on the television industry, with its acquisition of SnappyTV (a live clipping, editing and distribution platform) and more recently, with the Twitter Amplify program, as it looks to cater to live entertainment.

A recent report from Twitter claims that TV stars get a 228% boost in follower rate when they live-tweet. For entertainment brands, this may mean a resurgence of live-tweeting. Posting from a show’s Twitter handle, like @GameofThrones or @ScandalABC, increases total Twitter conversation by about 7% during television premieres, Twitter has found. And having the show’s cast live-tweet increases total tweets by 64%.

Twitter is stepping out of the shadows of Facebook and finally proving its value to marketers and brands. Based on its recent moves in the social landscape, it is looking like Twitter has a very bright future ahead of it.

Allyssa Kaiser is an account executive at digital and social advertising agency MRY.