Table stakes, according to Marketo's Miller, is engaging content -- be it blogs, webinars, video, whatever. If you don't have content worth promoting, don't bother. Although there are exceptions to every rule, Twitter is not a good direct sales channel, according to Miller; it's about lead generation rather than sales, which can be tough for some advertisers to wrap their heads around. Even then, though, it's no sure thing. Although marketers agree the self-service platform is easy to use, that doesn't mean it's easy to get results.
"We market to marketers, so my job is a little bit easier than a lot of [business-to-business] folks," Miller said.
That's been the experience of John Whelan, founder of Engage-A-Pro, a B2B relative of Yelp and Angie's List for service professionals. Whelan's a big fan of Twitter but was underwhelmed by an early test of paid advertising. Although the platform is changing rapidly, Twitter ad campaigns can roughly be grouped into two buckets: Those that focus on generating followers and those that focus on generating engagements. Whelan ran a modest, three-figure campaign and came away with a smattering of follows that were ultimately of little value. (Indeed, Marketo's Miller said of such campaigns: "Using paid campaigns to get followers is pretty much useless [for SMBs].") Whelan shifted gears and went for engagements instead, but found the ones he got never made it to the Engage-A-Pro website. In his view, that rendered them ultimately useless from a B2B lead-generation standpoint. Moreover, Whelan's engagements came at a cost comparable to his AdWords spending, which has been more effective in generating high-value leads, he said.
Whelan said he'll likely give paid Twitter ads another shot at some point; he's optimistic that it will someday be worth his while. For now, though, he'll watch how it evolves and put his money elsewhere. Whelan noted, too, that many SMBs -- unlike marketing pros such as Benson, Miller or Pote -- are still just figuring out the free tools on Twitter and other social sites. The cutthroat science of keyword bidding and other online advertising tactics adds higher rungs of complexity, and potential pain, for relatively inexperienced businesses.
"A lot of small companies have kind of just begun to dabble in the free product," Whelan said. "It's almost like you need a certain amount of critical mass before your [presence] is established, and before then don't waste your time throwing Twitter ads out there."
Optify's Pote offered the following advice for SMBs that want to add paid advertising to their Twitter mix.
1. Research And Define Your Audience.
Pote advised SMBs to ask the following questions when determining their advertising market: "Who are they Tweeting at? What are they Tweeting? Who do they follow? What types of content do they share? What hashtags do they use? The more of these you know, the better targeted your Tweets will be."
2. Optimize Promoted Tweets For Conversions.
If you're promoting a content download that requires users to give you their information, try to tee that up as much as possible in the tweet. Use words like "download the guide here" or "fill out this quick form to get the guide" along with whatever other copy that makes your content look incredibly appealing, so that you have a much higher chance of having the engagements with your tweets actually be clicks on the link," Pote said. "Remember, you'll get charged for everything -- even clicks to expand the Tweet. So the more of those clicks are on the link, the more traffic to your site and chance of conversion."
3. Organic And Paid Go Hand-In-Hand.
"Content that performs the best organically is likely the content that will perform the best on Promoted Tweets," Pote said.
4. Check Your Campaigns Regularly.
If you're unable to keep tabs on your campaigns throughout the day, you're probably going to pay too much for engagements. "Promoted Products run on a bidding system, and your average bid cost will go down as you begin to win those bids," Pote said. "Check back every couple of hours so that you can lower your max bid based on what your average bid is. This way you end up spending less but still get those impressions and engagements."
5. Small Budgets Can Work.
Most small businesses can't pump thousands of dollars a month into advertising, especially on a single channel. That's not necessarily a problem. "You can make the most out of any budget, even if it's just a couple hundred dollars," Pote said. "Find that sweet spot and you can still drive high volumes of impressions and engagements even if you don't have a lot to spend."
6. Test, Measure, Repeat.
"The success of your campaigns relies entirely on the content you're promoting. Some pieces will perform better than others," Pote said. "I've had content that has flopped completely and I've had content that performed [very well]. If something isn't working, try something else until you find what does work."
Indeed, one thing the marketing minds agree on when it comes to Twitter ads: Cliché or not, content is definitely king. Although basic brand awareness might be just fine for Coca-Cola, lesser-known SMBs have their work cut out for them to stand out. Just as organic isn't an if-you-tweet-they-will-come proposition, neither is paid placement. Twitter devotees aren't often easily impressed, perhaps even less so than on other sites. The "Buy now!!" approach? It's probably going to fail, as will campaigns short on interesting or entertaining content; they're simply too easy to ignore. As AllThingsD reporter Jason Del Rey recently tweeted: "holy hell, do I get targeted with some BORING promoted tweets."