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?

Kevin Casey, Contributor

June 21, 2013

9 Min Read

10 Twitter Power Tips

10 Twitter Power Tips

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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. 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."

About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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