Twitter is now an advertising business January 7th
In December last year, Twitter unveiled a completely new version of its service, focussed on the way users discover and share information.
After a month or so of living with these changes its become really apparent that they are the first big step in turning Twitter from a social network into an advertising business, driven by the sponsorship of content and news.
Firstly, let’s take a step back to look at some of the big changes:
A tab which features trends 1 and hashtags in a similar style to something like Flipboard or a good RSS reader. It’s supposedly a simple way of finding out about important topics across Twitter.
This is a Twitter-version of the Facebook Newsfeed, and merges together your @mentions with notifications of when users follow you, add you to a list or retweet you. It’s a way of surfacing actions which previously were only notified via email. Its featured in the new version of the Twitter website and on the mobile platform.
A revamped version of the web version of Twitter, which looks and feels a lot more like Facebook by integrating pictures and other media into your timeline of tweets. There are now pages for Brands, and less focus on getting you to tweet and more on discovering what people are talking about through the ‘Discover’ tab.
A brand new version 2 which is native on Mac and PC (no more Adobe Air). Loses a bunch of features but is re-branded. It doesn’t feature either the ‘Me’ or ‘Discover’ tabs.
A new version of the Twitter mobile website, iPhone 3 and Android apps, all of which feature almost identical designs, based around the ‘Me’ and ‘Discover’ tabs.
Advertising needs eyeballs
Quite simply, Twitter needs large amounts of regular revenue. Like other social businesses this doesn’t come from subscriptions but from advertising.
They are unable to offer a similar, targeted advertising product to Facebook because they’re not creating a social graph 4. Their advertising offering is limited to promoted content, either in the form of Tweets or Trends.
To make these products as desirable as possible to customers (mostly corporates and brands) 5 they need to have as many people’s eyeballs as possible interacting with them.
The easiest way to do this is to restructure the experience around the discovery of content through aggregated Trends and popular stories. Hence the ‘Discover’ Tab.
Will it work?
I think this will be very useful for new users. One of the biggest problems with Twitter has been explaining what it’s for. Its origins as a communications network meant for new users it could sometimes be like owning a mobile phone but having no-one to text. Explaining Twitter as a place for getting timely access to breaking news, trends and gossip will make much more sense to the majority of people.
For me, the problem is with the relevance of the content in the ‘Discover’ tab. I don’t care about what the most popular Tweeted phrases are from everyone in London or the UK, I care about what’s been read, shared or tweeted by the people I’m following. How it works at present is akin to a quality conversation between friends in a crowded and noisy pub being drowned out by all the conversations taking place around you.
I am surprised that there’s never been an option for seeing ‘Trends amongst my friends’. Keeping track of the useful and popular conversations amongst those you follow can sometimes be a real challenge. I could imagine an advertising product where brands could target adverts according to ‘Personal trends’ based on the topics which are popular amongst those people you follow.
- A trend is a way of tracking words or phrases which are being tweeted with the largest audience, either by users with a large following or by lots of users ↩
- Similar to Twitter for iPhone, TweetDeck was acquired by Twitter in May 2011. If you’ve not used it, TweetDeck is billed as a ‘power users’ Twitter tool. One of its best innovations was the introduction of ‘columns’; multiple version of your Twitter timeline which you could fill with searches, lists, Hashtags etc. ↩
- Twitter’s iPhone app was based on a fantastic, independent app called Tweetie, built by a stupendous chap called Loren Brichter. Twitter bought the app back in April 2010 and Loren went to work there to move the app in-house but left recently. If you didn’t use the original version before it was bought by Twitter you missed out – it was perfect. I’m still using it instead of the new mobile app. ↩
- Put simply, it’s a collection of information about you and how what you do on a social network connects you to your friends. This can be used to help surface interesting content for you, and also build targeted advertising ↩
- Before Christmas I met with someone from Twitter UK’s advertising sales team. Sponsored stories, trends and tweets are becoming increasingly popular amongst brands and if the click-through rates are to be believed they’re offering a large return on investment. They’re not going away anytime soon ↩
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