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6 Ways To Make Promoted Tweets Pay Off

Twitter tells small and midsize businesses (SMBs) #LetsDoBusiness. Is it worth paying to play on the popular social site?

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10 Twitter Power Tips
Twitter's got a message for small and midsize businesses (SMBs). Appropriately, it's embedded in a hashtag: #LetsDoBusiness.

Specifically, Twitter wants your business, not just as an everyday user but as a paying advertiser. The company continues to build out its relatively young self-service advertising platform in hopes that it becomes a cash cow, a la Google AdWords or Facebook advertising. A recent marketing email from the Twitter for Business team, for example, reads: "Hey, @kevinrcasey, time to grow your business with Twitter." The email features an apparel company, Gongshow Gear, that increased its website traffic 20% with a paid Promoted Tweets campaign, according to Twitter. The marketing push comes at a critical early stage for Twitter advertising: Although it's been around for more than a year, and in testing for even longer, the self-service platform only became generally available in March. There's also a full-service counterpart for companies with deeper pocketbooks.

Although Twitter's self-service platform isn't just for SMBs, it's no secret that smaller companies comprise a large, desirable market for the site. Twitter recently partnered with Chase to give away $1 million in advertising credits to the bank's small business customers.

"We talk to a lot of leaders of [SMBs]," said Russ Laraway, Twitter's head of small business, in a blog post announcing the program. "We hear about the challenges of being time- and resource-constrained, and specifically how those constraints affect their ability to properly integrate technologies, such as Twitter, into their ongoing marketing efforts." As a result, Twitter will also provide research and advice to SMBs as part of the Chase program -- with an eye, of course, toward converting them into long-term, paying advertisers.

[ Social business drives other business. See the people who are doing it right. 10 Social Business Leaders For 2013. ]

Is it worth paying for placement on a site that gives away its core currency -- the 140-character tweet -- for free? The summary response from some early adopters is: Yes, most definitely -- but it helps if you know what you're doing.

"If you're [a business] on Twitter and you're not putting paid promotions behind your own good content, then you're not going to get the results you want," said Jason Miller, senior social media strategist at Marketo, in a phone interview. "Unless you're Coca-Cola with 500,000 followers or another company with 100,000 followers, you're not really going to get any results doing it just organically."

Scott Benson, senior SEO manager at Vocus, is using Promoted Tweets to do just that: Put paid advertising behind the company's blogs and other free content, both to expand the overall audience as well as create a new source of leads for retargeting and nurturing campaigns. The early results are positive.

"What we've found -- and this might not sit well with social marketing traditionalists -- is the paid traffic is just as socially engaged as our natural traffic," Benson said in an email interview, noting that there's room for both organic and paid efforts; in fact, they might work best in tandem. "The data that's building suggest you can pay-to-play at social marketing."

Optify content marketing manager Danie Pote agrees. She shared the results of a recent $2,600 campaign: It produced an average cost per engagement -- Twitter-speak for favorites, retweets, clicks and so forth -- of 68 cents. It also generated 608 leads at an average cost of $4.27 -- the lowest of all the lead generation programs Pote's team runs. Moreover, these are the Glengarry leads. "Because of my targeting and the content of my Tweets, the majority of these leads are in our wheelhouse," Pote said, meaning they're likely become qualified later in the marketing lifecycle.

You'll notice something about these folks, though: They're all social-savvy professionals plying their trade at well-known online marketing firms. Can the rest of us figure Twitter advertising out? The less-than-satisfying answer: It depends.

Pote noted, for instance, that Twitter's bidding-based platform has become much more competitive of late. "As more and more advertisers got on board, it became harder and harder to drive those conversions because bids became more competitive and expensive and users had much more to choose from," Pote said. Her solution for that challenge: Keyword targeting in timelines, which became available in April. Pote's numbers jumped back up as a result.

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