Heated competition in the wireless world has been a boon to Twitter. Now Twitter is tossing more fuel on the fire.
Starting today, the social-media company is introducing two new ad features: one that lets advertisers target Twitter users on particular wireless carriers, and another that lets them reach users on new mobile devices.
The features add additional layers to demographic offerings from Twitter, which has seen steady growth in its ad business despite flagging user engagement. Carrier targeting will be available to all Twitter marketers -- though the feature will largely be useful for carriers themselves to promote device upgrades and loyalty services to customers. They could also strike competitors' subscribers.
National carriers have ramped up social-media spending, goosed by the frequent, fiery Twitter presence of T-Mobile CEO John Legere. "The teleco wars broke out on Twitter," said Brent Herd, head of telecommunication sales for Twitter. "It's a feature that the marketplace for us has been asking for some time."
Mr. Herd would not specify how much of Twitter's ad sales -- $320 million last quarter -- came from the sector. But he offered, "It's been growing in a very healthy way."
Twitter has tested carrier targeting over recent months with multiple wireless companies, including all four of the largest in the U.S., according to an executive familiar with the situation. International carriers have experimented, too.
"The reason we love this product because it enables us to talk to our consumers," said Dale Hooper, chief brand officer for Rogers Communications, Canada's largest telecom. Rogers tested the feature while marketing its roaming feature to subscribers. Mr. Hooper said the company saw engagement 10% greater than the industry benchmark for its English-language ads; in French, it hurtled 30%.
Rogers only targeted its own customers, not its rival's. But other carriers might. When asked if O2, a British carrier that tested the feature, targeted competing subscribers, a spokeswoman for the carrier hedged. "We use all tactics at our disposal in order to help us be more relevant to existing and potential customers," she wrote in an email.
Verizon, AT&T and Sprint declined to comment. "Twitter is blazing a new trail in the social space with this type of targeting and the early results are positive," Peter DeLuca, senior-VP advertising for T-Mobile, said in a statement.
Recently, Verizon and AT&T have faced scrutiny from privacy advocates over their experiments with mobile-ad targeting.
With its second new feature, Twitter is making a push for app-install dollars, a cottage industry pouring into Facebook. If a Twitter user logs in using a new iPhone, for instance, advertisers can now pitch the user on other apps. Both Google and Facebook currently offer this feature.
Twitter is joining Google in selling carrier-targeting. To date, Facebook does not -- alhough it may soon.
Softcard, the telecom joint-venture payments company, has used both new Twitter targeting features to market its mobile app. "When Twitter rolls this out publicly, it could be beneficial for advertisers," Jeffrey Mack, Softcard's head of social, said of carrier targeting. "They could go to Facebook and say, 'Well, Twitter offers it.'"