Promoted tweets are powerful, but keep the powder dry

Paid tweets can supercharge PR campaigns but could backfire with overuse

Course: CDPR 108, Week 3
September 30, 2012
This blog covers my weekly assignments and learning for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well-respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog through the fall 2012 semester as we move from A – Z in social media.

Our assignment this week was to consider whether Twitter’s advertising products – promoted tweets, promoted accounts and promoted trends – are valuable for public relations programs. Twitter’s promoted products were designed for marketers but I consider them powerful aids for surpercharging PR campaigns if used sparingly.

I say “sparingly” because there is a considerable risk that promoted tweets and the like will be viewed as spam or junk mail by the people you hope to influence. When was the last time you heard someone say she wanted more junk mail? Never. Save your use of promoted tweets for large campaigns and big issues so that there is less chance you’ll annoy the very people with whom you want to connect.

First, what are these products and how do they work? Essentially, what Twitter calls “targeted tweets” are actually advertisements camoflaged as news and messages. Twitter now makes it possible to pay in order to do these three things:

1. Promote your tweets: direct tweets to your followers plus like-minded people who don’t follow your organization to extend the reach of your company’s message

2. Promote your trends: place your trend at the top of the Trends side bar to kickstart engagement on an issue that matters to your industry

3. Promoted your account: place your name or account at the top of the “Who to Follow” side bar to increase the number of followers your organization has

Promoted tweet from British Airways

A yellow arrow signifies a promoted account, trend or tweet such as this one from British Airways. This image was taken from the story linked above.

The pricing structure varies depending on the service. Similar to Google Adwords, promoted tweets and accounts use a CPE (cost-per-engagement) model whereby the more people interact with your tweet and the more traction it gets, the more you pay. Promoted trends are different. Twitter charges a flat fee to place your trend at the top of the Trends sidebar for the day, based on a bid price. (Quora offers more information on pricing.)

While we may not like to see more advertising in social spaces, it’s important for PR professionals to judge these services on how well they might increase awareness, build relationships and promote a good reputation for the organization.

The upside of promoted tweets et al is obvious – increasing your reach and raising your profile among Twitter’s vast community of users with targetted messages and news. They offer the benefits of traditional advertising but with lower costs (in many cases), increased agility to react as opportunities arise, and the ability to target messages to those who are likely to find them interesting and relevant.

The downside of promoted tweets is the potential to tick off your followers and people like them if these tools are overused. The same goes for promoted accounts and trends: Use them too often and you’ll be ignored. But as long as promoted tweets, accounts and trends are used in moderation and deliver good content, they can be effective in helping reach public relations objectives.

Case studies: Deciding when the time is right

In an example of how these services could be used outside product marketing, Fast Company recently ran an article on how Mitt Romney’s campaign team used a promoted trend on the first day of the Republican National Convention last August to get his message out – the first documented use of a promoted trend for a political campaign. The article reported the bought trend produced 538,000 tweets before Romney’s address on Day 1 of the convention, and concluded that “this kind of precision messaging is the marketing holy grail.” (The story was written by Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes who disclosed in the article that his company provides promoted tweet services.)

Twitter has posted several interesting case studies (yes, to market their promoted products but they are good examples nonetheless) that are worth reading to see how non-profit organizations have used promoted tweets to increase understanding and reach their goals. Here are three examples:

British Heart Foundation used promoted tweets to educate the public on how to perform CPR to save lives (to the throbbing beat of the Bee Gee’s “Staying Alive”, no less). Good use of humour to make CPR cool.

American Foundation for Equal Rights used promoted tweets in search and timelines to communicate breaking news about a legal challenge to a California law denying marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. This was a well-orchestrated, all-out campaign. The case study reports that the three-pronged campaign drove a 1400% increase in mentions over the previous month (although this was big news their stakeholders and would have received some degree of attention without bought tweets).

American Red Cross uses Twitter generally to engage its volunteers and donors and in crisis situations to get urgent information and updates to people who need it. They teamed up with Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, on a promoted tweet donor compaign that quickly reached its $10,000 goal.

These are great examples of how PR objectives can be reached using promoted tweets, trends and accounts. But they are not for every promo-task. In the above cases, a paid tweet was used for major news, events and campaigns. They were part of much larger communication plans.  Don’t even consider using them if you find yourself in these situations:

1. If you are new to Twitter and haven’t already established a community there. A 2012 post by i360 points out that “it’s only for those [already] taking part in Twitter” and further that “no one should get on Twitter solely to take advantage of ad options.”

2. If you are tasked with daily marketing of promotions (last minute deals, limited time offers, etc). No one likes junk mail and telemarketing so what are the chances they will tolerate a mountain of promoted tweets? Zero. Remember what Twitter is and why people use it – to connect with other people and share information. Don’t overuse promoted tweets.

3. If you don’t have a larger plan or engaging content to support it. In the case studies I have highlighted, promoted tweets were used (sometime multiple times) as part of multi-facted communication plans that included video and other online content, and even events. Keep in mind that using this tactic in isolation may not yield the results you’re hoping for.

Thanks for reading and leave a comment. What do you think?

Last week’s poll: What do you find most useful about Foursquare?  

Only two people responded saying they find listings of nearby businesses and tips are the most useful.

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8 thoughts on “Promoted tweets are powerful, but keep the powder dry

    1. caroldunsmore Post author

      Hi Joanne and thank you for your comment. Maybe you can help me think of a catchy name of my blog a la Dark Horse Rises! Stating a clear point of view early on and avoiding sidetracks helps to keep the writing focused. I edit a lot.

  1. Brad Lee

    Thanks for finding some great case studies, and thanks for pointing out the fact that Twitter promotions work best for those organizations that already have a following. Communicating well over Twitter, I believe, requires a different skills and mind set. And because of the general chaotic nature of the platform, I think I’d be more comfortable using it to attract attention, then redirect to a more secure web site where I might be able to better moderate a discussion.

  2. emilypr

    Thank you for another educational post! I come here to learn. My research didn’t go as far as looking into the possible disadvantages of using the promoted Tweets/Trend/Account. To know these possibilities is definitely helpful!

  3. StephS - prsocialweb

    Great post Carol. I completely agree wth you that promoted tweets are best used as part of a larger communication plan (particularly a well funded one!) and should include socially-oriented content that matches the social platform. When it’s too promotional, I just get really annoyed. There is incredible value for promoted tweets during crisis communication for an organization to get their message out front quickly, establishing them as the go-to source for the issue…. I really like the power and potential of that aspect.

    1. caroldunsmore Post author

      Thanks for your note Steph. Agreed – promoted tweets are a double-edged sword. Powerful to drive positive results with major risk of failure for people who don’t carefully consider the audience’s perspective.

  4. Liz

    I second Emily’s comment!
    Junk mail, very true, expensive junk mail at that. Personally I feel bothered by sales people and over promotion, and pushed advertising rubs me the same way.
    As you point out – Promotional Tweets, Accounts and Trends don’t make sense unless you, the business/brand, has established a meaty (infographic – burger reference) social network of followers.

    1. caroldunsmore Post author

      Appreciate your comment Liz. It’s interesting to note that others view these tools the same way I do. It makes sense that promoted tweets, used at the right time, will work better with a bigger starting audience (at least a quarter pounder!) Thanks for reading.


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