Thursday 29 September 2016

Steve Dempsey: 'For Tweets a jolly good fellow - and so say all of us...'

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

‘Plenty of others are getting in on this act.
Facebook’s at it: BBC’s Match of the Day used Facebook live video to reveal the order the day’s matches would be shown in November — and the live video gained 1.3 million views...’ Photo: BBC
‘Plenty of others are getting in on this act. Facebook’s at it: BBC’s Match of the Day used Facebook live video to reveal the order the day’s matches would be shown in November — and the live video gained 1.3 million views...’ Photo: BBC

Ten years and six days ago, the first tweet was sent. "Just setting up my twttr" wrote co-founder Jack Dorsey at 8.50pm on March 21, 2006. Remember, vowels weren't cool back then.

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In the last 10 years, vowels have come back into fashion and Twitter has grown to 320 million monthly active users who post 183 billion tweets a year. But the company has endured mixed fortunes since going public, mostly due to relatively sluggish growth in users and uncertainty about monetisation.

Twitter had year-on-year revenue growth of 48pc in Q4 of 2015 - but still reported a net loss of $90m. But the company now has 130,000 advertisers. Despite flat user base growth, it's still an intriguing online platform for marketers.

For many, the sponsored tweet is the most prominent example of advertising on Twitter. But the company has other promoted products, like app install ads and auto-playing promoted videos. These are fairly unsubtle display formats. They do offer engagement rates of 2pc to 4pc, which ain't bad. But it's not going to set the world alight.

Twitter started making waves a few years back in the area of real-time marketing. It was doing its damnedest to become the TV's little brother and carve off a slice of TV's ad spend for itself. The social network has been working with Kantar in the UK and Nielsen in the US to offer advertisers a metric for how well a show is doing on social channels. And it has invested in businesses like Mesagraph, SecondSync and Bluefin Labs, all of which offer greater insight into the effect TV programming is having on social media.

So how have brands responded? Most famously, Oreo's pounced during a power cut in the Superbowl, reminding viewers they could still eat Oreos in the dark. Adland went a bit overboard in its praise for the tweet, but it was one of the first instances where a brand connected with consumers at scale around a cultural event.

Twitter recently published research that found people who used Twitter while watching a TV programme - whether actively Tweeting or just following along - were 62pc more likely to recall the brands that advertised during the programme over people not on Twitter. So it's no surprise that the company has created tools to help marketers plan for the big events.

For example, Event Targeting allows marketers to engage with audiences around live events. The tool presents a calendar of events, offers insights into the audiences and allows marketers to create campaigns that deliver the right message to just the right users as the event unfolds. Event targeting can be combined with other key targeting types like gender, language and device, so you can reach the right segment of an event audience.

And Twitter is also betting big on live streaming video. Twitter's Periscope video app now plays automatically, offering opportunities to brands to integrate it into their marketing strategy.

Plenty of others are getting in on this act.

Facebook's at it: BBC's Match of the Day, hosted by Gary Lineker, pictured, used Facebook live video to reveal the order the day's matches would be shown in November and the live video gained 1.3 million views.

Snapchat is at it; its stories curated from user-generated content give an unparalleled sense of authenticity and immediacy. YouTube is at it, having just announced plans to launch YouTube Connect, a live streaming periscope competitor.

But none of the initiatives above are going to result in the explosion in revenues or users that Twitter needs. However, since Jack Dorsey returned as chief executive, he has shown a willingness to shake things up to drive the company forward.

Earlier this year, reports emerged that Twitter was building a platform that would allow tweets to be longer than the 140-character limit to give users more bandwidth to share their thoughts. A 10,000-character limit the same as Direct Messages was mooted. The plans were greeted with howls of protest from the purists.

These purists were similarly outraged with the arrival of an algorithmic feed, which Twitter is calling an improved timeline. They needn't have worried; it amounted to little more than an expansion of the pre-existing 'while you were away' feature and is optional.

Dorsey's plan seems to be to go back to basics and do what Twitter does best. And what it does best is reflect events back to its users as they happen.

Breaking news, sports, live TV or a live stream of a puddle (yes, Twitter made a puddle a cultural event), Twitter users rely on it to be a second screen for TV and the first screen for instant news.

"There's a whole discussion around virtual reality and augmented reality and Twitter has been augmenting reality for 10 years," Dorsey recently told Bloomberg. "You watch any game, you watch any live event, you watch any political debate, Twitter makes it more interesting, funnier, entertaining."

The challenge for marketers, regardless of their creative or technical approach, is to be interesting, funny or entertaining too.

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