Last week, after some anticipation, Twitter announced it was launching its advertising API (application programming interface). In short, the API builds out Twitter as an ad platform; it helps Twitter offer marketers greater efficiencies, giving them more flexibility and control over ad creation, distribution, targeting, and analytics, allowing them to automate more of the ad process and allowing them to work with Twitter partners on campaigns. At launch, those partners are Adobe, HootSuite, Salesforce, SHIFT, and TBG Digital.
Twitter has played a central role in the creative marketing shift from scheduled ad campaigns to real-time conversations and always-on publishing. And while the newly launched API Twitter greases the skids for advertisers and opens up Twitter’s ad revenue potential as the company grows (and maybe looks toward going public), Twitter execs are quick to point out that this move doesn’t mean it’s unleashing a torrent of brand messages on users, who, to date, have enjoyed the company’s fairly considered approach to ads vis a vis user experience.
We spoke to April Underwood, product manager, revenue, on the ads API and business development manager Doug Williams about what the API means for the next phase of Twitter as an ad platform.
Co.Create: First, the basics: What will this allow marketers to do that they couldn’t do before?
April Underwood: We built the API for two reasons with marketers in mind: First we know that there are a lot of third party tools as well as agencies out there to make it easier for advertisers to work at scale. We wanted to be able to unleash those tools to be applied to Twitter the way they are to other networks. And then, second, we’re not the only place where marketers can choose to advertise—we know brands value being able to have a one stop shop from which they can manage their campaigns across all channels and from which they can assess performance. Part of it is really about our being there—about arriving on the scene within these major tools that already exist that are popular among the most sophisticated brands as well as among smaller businesses as well.
Can you give some actual examples of things that the API will enable?
AU: First, if you’ve got a larger brand advertiser, and they’re really focused on getting tailored messages out to specific segments, what they do today, and what works for some of them, is to set up campaigns manually and come back later and see how they’re performing and make changes based on that. So there a whole bunch of companies out there that have built technology that makes it easier and frictionless for them to be able to do that in more of an automated way. So, let’s you say you want to reach users in 20 different locations across 10 different types of interest and perhaps you want to see how you perform with men vs. women. Some of our partners are actually able to set up those campaign with a few clicks, assess their performance and then in an automated fashion shift budgets toward the audiences or the campaigns that are performing the best. So, it basically takes a lot of the manual effort out of that trial and error process of being able to set up a bunch of different campaigns, let them out into the wild and see which ones work best and focus their dollars there.
Second, we’re seeing a lot of advertisers thinking about how to use Twitter alongside their TV campaigns. The second screen experience for Twitter users is a real thing and we see a lot of users talking about and engaging with content in real time along with whatever they’re watching on TV. So marketers are getting in on that and we’ve seen that with the Super Bowl and the Grammys to a significant degree recently. And some of our partners will explore opportunities to make it easier to operationally manage your Twitter campaigns alongside TV spend. So if you know you have TV spots running at various times in a real-time program you can actually set up your Twitter campaigns in advance and eventually get some tools to be able to make adjustments in real time if something like the blackout happens during the Super Bowl. There are a lot of ways that the API can enable cross-channel collaboration, and for advertisers to be able to harness Twitter to be a complement to their spend in other channels.
Third, there are a lot of smaller and medium businesses that use tools to manage their organic presence on Twitter—to manage their Twitter account, to respond to customer questions, to just be able to manage their presence on the network. HootSuite is an example of tools like that. There is a real opportunity for those folks to quickly be able to move into a mode of promoting content to get to a wider audience than the folks that are already following them.
This was a much-anticipated, some would say overdue move. What’s behind the timing?
AU: The way we do things is focusing on getting it right vs. right now. We take a slow and and thoughtful approach to building all our products, especially our ad products. I would say that there have been a lot of things that have happened in the last year that make the timing right for the ad API. We’ve had Twitter ads since April 2010 but mobile is a really large part of our usage and a large part of our revenue as well. It’s one of the unique things about Twitter, that when you advertise on Twitter your ads can seamlessly go from desktop to mobile and tablet experiences. They’re all one format, they’re all tweets, or in the case of promoted accounts it’s exactly the same. We only put promoted tweets into the timeline about a year ago and we’ve been building out more targeting capabilities, which is one of the things that third parties like the ones announced with this launch really have the opportunity to innovate on top of. So now that we have things like more geo-targeting capabilities, gender targeting, etc., there are a lot more opportunities for our partners to do great things and there’s also a lot involved in setting up and managing those campaigns. It’s a confluence of the need to be stronger now that we have a more full-featured offering, but in addition there is more surface area for our partners to build on top of. So we took our time and we feel that right now is a good time for marketers and an exciting business opportunity for our partners.
The assumption here is that this move will open up the floodgates in terms of advertising on Twitter. Will it? And how do you manage that user experience question?
AU: The answer to that is no. Launching an ad based API does not mean we’ve changed our philosophy or that a user will see more ads in their experience. The ads API is all about making it easier for marketers to do what they’re already doing with us in a much more efficient way and over time to be able to get a much more sophisticated answer for how to work with us more quickly.
So from a user standpoint it doesn’t mean we’re becoming more aggressive in terms of ads or altering the user experience at all. This is all about giving marketers more choice as well as a broader set of tools in their arsenal that they can use in how they want to work with us.
Many brands are working to evolve such that they are less about "advertising" and more about taking part in ongoing, real-time conversations (see Oreo’s well-reviewed efforts around the Super Bowl blackout). How do you see Twitter evolving in terms of earned media and paid promoted?
DW: One of the things we’re excited about with the launch of the API is that we can work with partners who are helping marketers manage their Twitter presence and their paid presence in the same product. One of the things we know is that to be a good marketer on Twitter you have to have a strong organic presence on the network as well. So bringing those two functions which have traditionally been very separate within organizations together and we are starting to see in our clients organizations as well as from a product perspective, is one of the things we’re excited about with the launch of the API.
AU: We’ve really been in education mode for this past couple of years—the whole idea of real-time marketing is still very new. But examples like the Super Bowl illustrate that marketers get it now. So for all of those marketers who have gotten past the education phase what we want to do now is unleash partners that can help make that as easy as possible. Now they’re getting a sense of how you do this and how you create that great content in real time and how you do it in a way that stays true to your brand but also has that what I think of as a more human voice that comes with Twitter. It’s about how do you do that operationally and I think the API is a toolset that will help them apply those best practices.