Twitter finally tossed a bigger hat into the advertising realm on February 20, 2013 by announcing the new Twitter Ad API and the five initial partners who will power this new vehicle. Yes, Twitter already has the capability to run ads — we've all been annoyed by 'Promoted Tweets' clogging up our timelines since 2010 — but now the experience should be better for marketers and less disruptive for users.
But what does all of this mean for those of us in the design and advertising world? Let's break this little nugget down and dive into the logistics, the theory and the user-experience.
Twitter Ad API in non-geek speak
So, what exactly is the Twitter API?
Basically, the API powers Twitter, acting as a line of communication between software programs. Among other things, the Twitter API is what makes HootSuite, TweetBot and Twitterific possible.
In 2010 Twitter began to limit access to its open source API, bought up certain companies that had mastered the API (bye-bye TweetDeck) and irritated many a hacker, designer, start-up guru or just anyone loving Tweetdeck, or the possibility of creating the next Tweetdeck. Many in the Twitter community saw the looming specter of capitalism on the horizon, and the shutting off of access to the API was the first move towards monetization of the platform and the conversion of tweets into commodities.
Rumors of advertising tweets, IPOs and acquisitions bounced about the web and in April of 2010, the platform launched Promoted Tweets.
Prior to the new Twitter Ad API, one had to manually monitor trending campaigns, use a cumbersome one-off tweet promoting process or actually call the advertising division of Twitter to run a campaign. By keeping the process of Promoted Tweets out of the realm of mass automation, Twitter managed to keep the number of advertising tweets in a user's feed under control.
The downfall of the previous advertising system left little option for scalability or growth from a marketer's perspective. Twitter claims that scalability was a major reason for releasing this new API. Knowing that outside companies already had mechanisms in place for tracking, responding to and engaging followers using the existing API, Twitter chose five partners to help launch the Ad API and is currently working with others to broaden the advertising options. Adobe, SalesForce, SHIFT, Hootesuite and TBG Digital are all helping make the Twitter world a more unified and ad-friendly space.
One of the Twitter Ad API partners, Adobe Media Optimizer, posted some promising results of testing with new API. According to the Adobe Digital Marketing Blog, the initial test campaigns showed a dramatic increase of 63% in followers with a reduction of 60% in the cost per follow.
But what does all of this really mean for the creators and executioners of ad campaigns?
Agencies can now monitor conversations on a massive scale, automate the engagement process, and respond to trends in real time with Promoted Tweets all from the same software platform.
Listen & Engage
Twitter claims that all of this Ad API technology will help ads become more relevant, not increase their volume. April Underwood, Product Manager at Twitter, answered the concerns about ad volume during a recent interview with FastCoCreate.com:
"So from a user standpoint it doesn’t mean we’re becoming more aggressive in terms of ads or altering the user experience at all. This is all about giving marketers more choice as well as a broader set of tools in their arsenal that they can use in how they want to work with us."
The Ad API is designed to allow marketers to better tune its listening cap towards conversations related to their target audience and respond rapidly. According to the Salesforce Marketing press release on PR Newswire you can now listen to more than 400 million daily tweets and "track real-time conversations from more than 540 million social sources across the web including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, blogs and online communities"
Wow, insert head explosion here
Let's break that down to a more manageable scenario. Say your client owns a company specializing in organic dog food products and have hired your agency to expand web traffic and conversions using social media. You can now employ the services of one of the above Partners and begin to track keywords, hashtags and conversations related to all things organic for Fido. You can then follow the conversation trends across multiple social media platforms.
You've got the framework in place and are using Promoted Tweets that target conversations about dogs and/or organics and your system is responding to scale, in an automated fashion, and on a regular basis without hiring an army of interns to feed the Twitter advertising beast.
Tragically, another round of tainted dog food hits the markets from some unsavory supplier which substitutes food particles with toxic kibble and Fidos are getting sick left and right. People are questioning the sources of their favorite buddy's dinner and turning to social media to talk about the problem and find solutions.
Score for your agency. You're already scanning related keywords and your team is now spitting out relevant Promoted Tweets directly from one of the monitoring software partners targeting these trending conversations. You're able to respond in real time to the appropriate audience concerning a breaking news story that directly impacts your product and your target demographic.
Your brilliant team then scans these Facebook conversations and creates a series of blog posts addressing solutions and options for healing Fido, preventing such catastrophes in the first place by purchasing organic dog food, and including links to coupons on your client’s e-commerce site. You then blast links to the blog post now sitting on your client's blog as Promoted Tweets to organic loving dog owners. Your client's traffic explodes and they become the next Newman’s Own.
Before the Ad API this process was doable, but the manpower required would have both limited the response abilities of your team, and cost your client a small fortune in billable hours. And while you were able to monitor these conversations and trends using social monitoring software, you were not able to launch a Promoted Tweet from that same platform. You had to navigate the clunky Twitter ad interface or call them.
Another powerful tool for advertisers is the ability to automate the segmentation of your targeted demographics. Using the organic Fido example, let’s say you want special tweets to go out to women in their mid thirties living in the South and a different tweet to urban males in San Francisco in their late twenties. You can now automate that process and deliver different messages using partner software rather than loading individual messages separately through the Twitter interface.
You also have a ton of metrics, analytics and raw data on your side and can show your client very specific numbers on the ROI of your efforts.
And that's why they pay you the big bucks!
Cautiously creeping into the ad game
Twitter has taken its sweet time entering the ad world on this scale, and rightfully so. The platform is powered by community and conversation.
Twitter is a different beast, based entirely on the fundamental need for people to communicate in real time. Twitter is driven by conversations not professional biographies or personal, past narratives.
Twitter is rapid, it's real-time and it's fickle.
Ensuring that the user-experience on the platform is not exploited too much or too blatantly is paramount in promoting the growth and popularity of the company rumored to be worth almost $10 billion dollars.
Facebook showed the social media big boys what happens when you base a company's value on technology it has yet to fully integrate and numbers that are simply hypothetical. Zuckerburg’s botched IPO and the rapid decline of the Facebook stock served as a lesson to all major social media beasts looking to go public.
Get your house in order and have a solid, predictable advertising revenue stream in place first. Provide value beyond coercing users to throw barn animals and virtually poke each other all day. Build a vehicle that allows big advertisers to step into the game and easily throw some serious money at your company and then deliver the goods in actual data showing conversions, engagement and growth patterns with the platform’s existing community.
But truly, for Twitter to maintain its core community strength, it needs to delicately integrate this latest evolution of Promoted Tweets into the interface. We are a culture who, in theory, likes our privacy and knowing that someone, somewhere is mining our tweets for data to then try and make us consume, well that is a little creepy. And if not monitored properly or if implemented poorly, people will find another means of communicating in real-time on a different platform.
Does Twitter's ad API have a big future? Could Twitter ever challenge Google for advertising revenue? Let us know your thought in the comments.
Featured image/thumbnail, conversation image via Shutterstock.