Mason Wiley is senior VP of marketing at digital ad platform operator Hydra.
True to prediction, Twitter announced that its new master plan for monetization is to copy Google create a search-based ad platform. While it includes a few laudable features, I share the view that Twitter has failed to capitalize on the essence of what makes its service so unique and so popular.
Delivering short bursts of information—or musings, rants, or what have you—in the moment, Twitter does to a certain extent live up to its executives’ claims of functioning like a “global nervous system.” Immediacy is what makes it powerful—not the depth of information it provides. Given the 140-character limit, tweets just can’t provide that much information.
But information is what Internet searchers are looking for. That’s what makes the Google ad model so powerful. Those using it for shopping can find in-depth product information, product reviews, price comparison and even availability via Google search results and Google ads. That’s stuff you’re not going to find searching Tweets. For example, search for—mmm, let’s say “coffee”—on both Twitter and Google. The top result on Google is this ad for CoffeebeanDirect: “Extreme Value Coffee – A pound of ours costs about as much as a cup of theirs. CoffeeBeanDirect.com”. And it includes a $5 off offer. The top result in Twitter is “#welcometoghana, where coffee, tea and cocoa are all called tea… / // that be true waa…lol.” Wow, how useful.
Perhaps this is an unfair comparison. As soon as Twitter’s new platform launches, the first tweet search result will be a promoted tweet from Starbucks. But even so, it will stand alone as an oasis of actionable information amidst a sea of largely useless tweeted commentaries.
I will accept the claims that many people do search Tweets and that that search volume is high, but I highly doubt that search activity is as closely tied to shopping or any other commercially-related activity as is the case for Google. So in that sense, the Twitter ad model is not so much different than contextual or behavioral targeting of display ads.
All this is not to say there won’t be advertisers willing to buy “promoted tweets.” Reportedly Starbucks, Bravo and Virgin America have already signed on, and there are sure to be many others willing to dip the toe of their ad budget in the waters so as not to feel left out of the latest social media ad fad.
On the plus side, Twitter revealed that sponsored posts will be promoted up or down in displayed results based on how many users engage with them, i.e., replying, retweeting or favoriting. That’s a good thing. In today’s cluttered ad environment, just having an ad where people can see it is not enough. Engagement beats eyeballs hands down, and the net gives us the tools to measure and track it, which ultimately helps marketers strive for greater relevancy and impact with consumers.
It would have been amazing had Twitter come up with a monetization plan that capitalized on its intrinsic strengths rather than grafting on an approach that is better suited for traditional search. Who knows? Maybe this is just an interim strategy for generating some cash quickly and the big brains at Twitter are busy concocting the truly revolutionary monetization scheme. That would be very cool. As its stands now, it just looks like the most direct and immediate communication pipeline that exists will get clogged with ads.
Mason Wiley is senior VP of marketing at Hydra, operator of a performance-based multichannel digital advertising platform. Mason has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, brand-building, direct response, ecommerce and sales. He has pioneered emerging and alternative media channels along the lines of branded entertainment, wireless, viral and guerilla/street team marketing for companies such as Universal Studios Hollywood, Coca-Cola, Sony, and ABC Networks.