Twitter Brings Keyword Targeting to Social

Making the first move is important. In chess, even at the highest levels of competition, it’s reported that the player who moves first wins about 55% of the time. In media, the first move is either a brand showing an ad to a consumer, or the consumer expressing intent, then being shown an ad. When the consumer acts first, it makes the brand’s ad far more relevant.

Today, Twitter announced a significant enhancement to its Promoted Tweets that lets consumers make the first move. “Keyword targeting in timeline” allows brands to show ads to users who have tweeted or interacted with a tweet containing specific words and phrases. Advertisers get the best of paid search within a social platform. Now, brands can let consumers make the first move, responding to interest instead of pushing ads to an audience.

How keyword targeting will operate

The process works similar to paid search. Advertisers create a keyword list, set a bid, and when a user tweets using words that match something in the keyword list, they are served an ad. Slightly different from search, the user is not served the ad immediately; instead, it will show up in the user’s timeline within the next several minutes.

For example, Bob sends a tweet about looking for a new computer. If Dell has the words “new computer” in its keyword list, the next time Bob refreshes his timeline he gets served a Promoted Tweet from Dell. Further, if Bob does not send a tweet, but instead interacts (replies, favorites or retweets) with someone else’s tweet that references a “new computer,” he could also be served a Dell Promoted Tweet.

Finally, a breakthrough for Promoted Tweets?

The success of Twitter, much like Facebook, Google, and other free sites, is ultimately tied to its ability to monetize. At this point, Promoted Tweets have not been a roaring success. EMarketer estimates Twitter’s advertising revenue at about $500 million in 2013, a far cry from Facebook’s estimated $2.75 billion. Facebook has far more users, of course, but the point remains – Twitter needs Promoted Tweets to take off.

Keyword targeting in timeline is the innovation that will potentially push Promoted Tweets over the hump. Performance remains to be seen, but, in theory, keyword targeting will be a large boost to the efficiency of Promoted Tweets. Twitter is now a “pull marketing” platform where the user first expresses intent.

Maybe most exciting, marketers can still make use of three targeting options – location, device and gender – in conjunction with keyword targeting. This means that a swimwear maker can target girls in Miami on their mobile device who are currently tweeting about looking for a swimsuit. That level of relevance is an opportunity worth exploring, particularly for brick and mortar stores looking to reach mobile devices nearby.

Social media marketers have actually been keyword targeting for years because it works so well. However, it was a manual process that was labor intensive and slow. Twitter’s enhancement allows for scale and speed. It will allow marketers to have larger keyword lists and to serve ads to users within minutes of their tweet.

Match types are a concern at launch

Twitter will launch keyword targeting with two types of keyword matching:

»      Phrase Targeting – A series of words in the exact order, with no words in between. For example, for the phrase “new computer,” matching tweets would have to contain that exact phrase; same words, same order, no words in between.

»      Unordered Match – A series of words that appear in any order, with words in between. For example, a tweet containing “I need a computer, new or used,” would still match to the phrase “new computer.”

Those targeting options are not nearly as robust as Google or Bing, but they are a good first step. Twitter will offer some keyword tools at launch to help marketers with word tenses and plurals. Also, bulk keyword management is supported immediately. Users of Buddy Media and SHIFT will see the changes incorporated into both technologies within the week.

The biggest issue with match types is the lack of negative keywords. In SEM, negative keywords keep brands from wasting spend on irrelevant queries or being associated with unfavorable keywords. In social, there is an additional use: sentiment. Twitter will use an algorithm to help identify negative sentiment within a tweet, but language interpretation can be extremely hard for an algorithm, particularly when hashtags are involved. It is easy to see how an algorithm could miss the nuance of a tweet such as: “Can’t wait to eat at McDonald’s again! #notreally #neveragain.”

The algorithm is sure to improve over time, but brands concerned about serving ads to users with negative sentiment may not want to be early adopters of keyword targeting (or at least have a contingency plan to be prepared for backlash). The addition of negative keywords should help to ease these concerns, but there may never be a 100% accurate sentiment solution.

SEM and Social are a winning combination

Even with concerns about match types taken into account, keyword targeting in timeline is a win for marketers, and thus, for Twitter. The reason paid search has been such a successful platform for Google is the user expresses interest first. On top of that, Twitter’s targeting options trump Google’s. Particularly for brands which skew heavily towards one gender, or those looking for a specific device/location combination, Twitter just became a much more attractive marketing platform.

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