The past year has not been kind to Twitter. User growth has slowed. Trolls, bots and abuse continue to be problems. And marketers have complained that product innovation has not kept pace with competitors. Following an unsuccessful attempt to sell itself this fall, Twitter is back to going it alone.
Yet despite its troubles, Twitter remains a distinctive platform with a massive audience and the ability to deliver outsized returns in the right situations. Immediacy, organic reach, content discovery and lighter algorithmic curation of what users see are areas where Twitter shines. Consequently, the most effective strategies are the ones that best leverage these unique attributes.
Where does Twitter offer marketers the best opportunities? Here are four areas:
1. Target people based on what they are saying. Twitter is unique as a social platform in allowing marketers to target audiences not just on behavior, demographics and interests, but also by what they are saying via real-time keywords. This is a powerful capability that enables brands to identify and capitalize on moments when a consumer is likely to be most receptive to a particular marketing message.
For example, a manufacturer of Apple peripherals could target ads to people tweeting about getting a new MacBook, iPhone, or iPad. A cosmetics brand could reach consumers discussing a specific fashion look with a how-to guide on how to create that look using the brand's products. It's an extra level of precision that goes beyond simply identifying people who are generally relevant to a brand's business (someone interested in Apple hardware or cosmetics) to people who are relevant right now.
Tweet-based keyword targeting also allows brands to identify people who they normally wouldn't advertise to. The same cosmetics manufacturer could show ads to men tweeting about or engaging with content about gifts for wives or girlfriends.
2. Boost search success. Because Twitter content is surfaced in Google's search results, having a strong Twitter presence is a great way to gain organic reach outside of the Twitter platform. For instance, a Google search for a retail brand will bring up not just the retailer's website but the company's Twitter feed -- often as the second or third result. Consumers can view a short selection of recent tweets on the search-results page, and then click through to Twitter to explore in more depth.
Twitter also benefits Google search results behind the scenes. When a brand links its social channels to its website, Google will crawl those channels and use the content for weighting its results. This can be particularly useful in helping brands improve their results for generic searches that are relevant to them. It would allow, for instance, a car manufacturer to place higher in organic searches for "new car" or an apparel brand in to place higher in searches for "fall fashion trends."
3. Promote original content and capitalize on real-time events. People go to Twitter to discover interesting content and stay on the pulse of breaking news. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, where the content comes to you via an algorithmically-curated newsfeed, Twitter allows users more control of their timeline, enabling them to directly follow content from media outlets and influential users. This makes Twitter an incredible, organic content distribution platform, especially for brands or influential people who have an established following outside of Twitter.
The nature of this user-directed experience also means that Twitter users are more likely to be open to other new content -- content that educates, informs, or provides insight into real-time, breaking events.
Marketers can feed this appetite by serving as a resource on topics people are talking about and seeking information on. The trick is identifying what matters to your audience and where your brand is best positioned to add legitimate value to the conversation.
Take a retailer capitalizing on buzz during Black Friday weekend by outpricing the competition in real-time, owning the conversation around the best deals and feeding coupons and information to users flocking to Twitter to find sales. Or a financial firm providing insight into what the recent Federal Reserve rate hike means for credit card or mortgage rates.
4. Use Twitter's "Firehose" as the ultimate media planning tool. The Twitter "Firehose" is the raw stream of tweets (500 million per day) and associated data that marketers can access through a handful of third party Twitter partners.
The Firehose is a goldmine for media planning, allowing brands to gain a phenomenally detailed understanding of how people are discussing their company and their products -- and see how these discussions fit into the overall market landscape.
Before launching a campaign, Firehose data can be used to identify relevant audiences, as well as pinpoint what marketing approaches might work best, based on the conversations they are having. For instance, knowing that key audiences are negatively disposed towards conspicuous consumption, a fashion brand could highlight messages around comfort and utility, or focus on higher-order issues such as being of service to others.
During campaigns, real-time Twitter data is an excellent tool for monitoring response and then using this data to craft responsive media elements. When Lexus launched an initial 37-second teaser video for its SLIDE hoverboard, conversation on Twitter exploded immediately. A key finding was that no one believed it was real. Lexus used this information to create follow-up messaging that addressed these questions, featuring interviews with pro skater Ross McGouran, who discussed the experience of riding the liquid nitrogen-powered hoverboard. The result? Lexus achieved better engagement with those interested in the story.