Thoughts, Insights and Inspiration

Spotlight On: Twitter


Twitter is not a new platform, and its simplicity and ubiquity in modern life mean that introductions hardly seem necessary. You just sign-up, follow people, type in updates, and you’re done, right? Well, yes sort of. That is Twitter in a nutshell, and it’s that kind of simplicity that’s given it its reputation as one of the most useful social media platforms on the internet. In an accelerated society, where FOMO is prevalent and keeping on top of news from friends and around the globe can be a challenge, Twitter’s relevance and ease-of-use is invaluable.

There’s much more to it than that though. Twitter is indeed simple for users, but for retailers looking to tap into its vast potential, raise awareness, and generate sales on their eCommerce site, the field is more treacherous. Yes, you still set up an account, send out Tweets, and build followers, but what does that actually mean? Does success on Twitter have any real bearing on a retailer’s overall success? And indeed, does Twitter have any real significance beyond its light blue borders?


When people talk about Twitter, they tend to talk about its tremendous reach and influence. As of 2015, the site was estimated to have 320 million active users, 80% of whom are active on their mobile device. That kind of reach has been felt in ‘the real world’ too; there’s hardly a day goes by that some Twitter spat, faux pas, trend, or hashtag doesn’t make it into the news in some form or other. Just look at how often news channels themselves are relying on Twitter to encourage more viewers to tune in or read their offering. In a world of short attention spans, the Tweeting man is king.

But Twitter itself is struggling slightly. Sure, it’s got a lot of users, but at the moment it’s having a hard time converting those users into money. Whereas Google and Facebook have mastered the art of monetising their free service, Twitter suffers with ads that are either too disruptive, too irrelevant, or simply too tacky. Even the influx of users is starting to dry up. That figure of 320 million users was up just 4 million on Q2 2015, and only 12 million from Q1 2015. That’s certainly nothing to sniff at, but a far cry from the 1.01 billion daily active users Facebook had as of September 2015.

This is one of the reasons the Twitter Google Partnership was launched last year. A deal that ended years of acrimony between the two companies and allowed the search engine to display Tweets in its results. Twitter has known for a while that it needs to expand its reach beyond people who are already signed up and to those who are not. Allowing Tweets and feeds to appear in front of Google’s vast userbase changes the landscape, as CEO Dick Costolo noted when the partnership was announced.

“We’ve got the opportunity now to drive a lot of attention to and aggregate eyeballs, if you will, to these logged-out experiences, topics and events that we plan on delivering on the front page of Twitter. And that’s one of the reasons this makes a lot more sense for us now.” With talks of a takeover persisting for some months now, Twitter’s management will be hoping the Google deal can deliver on its potential, and create that much-desired extra attention.


Along with the Google deal, Twitter has aimed to entice new users and make itself more profitable by constantly innovating. Recent years have seen the company create Periscope, a live video broadcast platform, and Vine, which allows users to record short videos of six seconds in length. Periscope is still very much in its infancy and has yet to break through quite as much as Twitter may have hoped (despite some notable strides), but Vine has become an undisputed channel for creativity, with ‘Vine Stars’ such as Jerome Jarre gradually becoming as prominent as ‘YouTube Stars’ thanks to their unique and innovative videos.

It’s significant, though, that few brands have been able to take advantage of Vine in the way that ordinary people have, and that some have turned to those Vine Stars to create significant cut-through. The value of these innovations to brands is difficult to judge, then. There may not be direct worth, but the more users flocking to Twitter to take advantage of innovations like Periscope or Vine, the more Twitter becomes an invaluable part of people’s everyday lives. This in turn makes that all important sign-up much more enticing.


This will undoubtedly be the thinking behind one of Twitter’s most recent innovations: Moments. Understanding the need for users to cut through the noise and quickly and easily see the Tweets that are most important to them, Twitter last year unveiled a new piece of functionality that filters the biggest stories from any given day into a new section on the site called Moments. Users simply click the lightning bolt icon in their navigation bar, and Twitter delivers top topics from the day and the best Tweets within that topic. It’s a sort of curated digital newspaper.

The problem is, in its infancy at least, the functionality seems flawed. Moments simply isn’t as personalised as you might expect from a platform that’s succeeded, in part, thanks to its personalised approach: tweets from people you don’t follow and don’t care to follow are appearing under topics you’re not especially interested in. It certainly works for Twitter, helping promote feeds people may not be aware of and therefore increasing their data-gathering potential, but it’s not working quite so well for the user. And it’s users that Twitter is clamouring for.


So if all these concerns exist around Twitter’s ability to innovate and expand, how is it still so successful and coveted by brands? Simply put, there’s still a lot of confusion as to how to best use Twitter, and the sheer fear of not being on the platform makes brands desperate to be on there and make it work for them regardless. This attitude makes brands see Twitter as an end, rather than a means to an end, and so an inert set of metrics rise in prominence, engagement being the most significant.

Brands view retweets, likes, comments, and reach as sacrosanct on Twitter, because those are the only key metrics available. A comment or like suggests that the person who took that action is engaged, while a retweet shows that they’re so engaged they want to share their enthusiasm, and this helps expand the reach of the posts further and further, thus generating awareness. These metrics tick boxes for brands because they suggest upward mobility, that the brand is spreading its wings and expanding its borders. And yes, it is…

But then what? 10,000 followers, 7,500 impressions, and 2,500 retweets per week are impressive stats, but they’re also easy to achieve. The user just has to click or tap, and they’re done with their engagement within a second. No further action is necessary, demanded, or won. So what does it all add up to? There needs to be that critical next step, a conversion from awareness to interest to ultimate action that benefits the brand, which will ultimately be a sale of the product or some sign of intent that a sale is desired. The now-deprecated Product Cards aside, Twitter hasn’t really delivered that.

It can, however, deliver amplification, and through amplification those sales can arrive. So brands and merchants need to understand that the most powerful metrics are still those that relate to their e-commerce site, and build their Twitter strategy around that. By doing so, brands can get the best of both worlds: a strong Twitter strategy that takes advantage of all the great things about the platform and delivers reach and awareness, as well as an overarching plan that doesn’t tie them too closely to the limitations of Twitter, and generates website visits, conversions, and that all-important profit.


So what are the key tips brands need to take from this article when deciding how to approach the Twittersphere?

  • Use multimedia. Twitter is an interactive place, and people now expect feeds to feature imagery, GIFs, and video. Cut through the noise with snappy, exciting, but above all relevant multimedia content that can drive users to your eCommerce site.
  • Use hashtags. Twitter’s hashtags are often fleeting, but are not entirely inconsequential. If you have relevance to that hashtag, take advantage of it with engaging content that can drive interest in your offering.
  • Be quick and useful. As Google’s Moment Marketing methodology suggests, speed and usefulness are of the essence. This is doubly true on Twitter. Tweets that are quick to read, but also substantial enough to offer something of value are more likely to succeed than those that aren’t.
  • Know your goal. Above all, understand that the reach and awareness Twitter can deliver is good, but nothing without converting that interest into a sale, a sign-up, or whatever ultimate goal you deem critical.

This month we placed the spotlight on Twitter, so don’t forget to tune in next month when we place the spotlight on WhatsApp. To make sure you don’t miss an article, subscribe to our blog to receive new articles straight to your inbox.

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