How Twitter's New Ad Format Will Get People Tweeting About Its Advertisers

Could Also Present an Alternative Way to Do Influencer Marketing

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People talk about a lot of things on Twitter, and now Twitter has come up with a new attempt to get those people talking about the company's advertisers.

Twitter is testing an ad format that prompts people to tweet an advertiser's message to their followers, which may be better received than if the message came directly from the brand. Described in a company announcement as a way for advertisers to spark conversations on Twitter related to their brands, the ad format could be another way for marketers to get influential Twitter users, in particular, tweeting about their brands.

Called "conversational ads," the modified promoted tweet presents people with one or two buttons for branded hashtags that look similar to the interactive polls Twitter has been letting people include in tweets. After someone clicks on a branded hashtag button, a tweet box will appear pre-populated with the message the brand wants the person to tweet, including the hashtag and photo or video that appeared in the brand's promoted tweet. The person can change that message, including removing the brand's photo or video, or leave it alone and then tweet it out to his or her followers.

Based on examples of the ad format provided by Twitter, the ad appears to be designed for advertisers to spark debates related to their brand. For example, in an ad for its a capella competition show "Pitch Slapped," Lifetime -- one of the first brands, along with Samsung Canada, to test the new ad format -- asks people to say which of two groups they think won a singing battle by clicking on the corresponding hashtag and tweeting their opinion to their followers.

In a way, the conversational ad format is another spin on so-called influencer marketing, in which advertisers pay people with large social followings to talk about their brands. It's a way for brands to piggyback someone's stature among that person's audience instead of the brand advertising to that audience on its own. And since the brand usually only pays for the initial tweet and not any subsequent retweets by the influencers' followers, those deals can be cost-effective. Twitter appears to be making a similar pitch with its new ad format.

Brands buying Twitter's conversational ads to drive video views only pay when someone who sees the original ad watches the video, according to Twitter VP of product Ameet Ranadive. If that person clicks on the ad and tweets the branded message and video to his or her followers, those subsequent views are free. But if a brand's objective is for people to engage with the tweet, such as by retweeting it, the brand will be charged for any subsequent engagements, he said.

For marketers looking to get influential Twitter users, like traditional and digital celebrities, to tweet about their brands, the conversational ad format could be an alternative to working with companies that operate networks of these so-called influencers. Because brands can target these ads like any other promoted tweet, a brand could conceivably compile a list of these influencers' Twitter accounts and target those people with ads on Twitter using Twitter's Tailored Audiences ad-targeting tool. Of course unlike the standard influencer deal, there's no guarantee that the influencers who see the conversational ad would do anything with it. That's good for Twitter considering the company owns Niche, a firm that signs deals between brands and its network of influencers.

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