SMX East: Twitter’s Richard Alfonsi On Ad Products, Second Screen Experience & More

Twitter BirdGood morning from the Big Apple! Day two of our SMX East conference is about to begin with a keynote conversation where Marketing Land/Search Engine Land founding editor Danny Sullivan will be speaking with Twitter’s Richard Alfonsi.

Alfonsi is Twitter’s vice president of global online sales for Twitter, and the conversation is sure to get into Twitter’s expanding ad products, how the company is positioning itself as a default “second screen” for TV networks and viewers — and advertisers, too — and much more.

It’s due to get started at 9:00 am ET, so stay tuned and feel free to refresh the page after we get started for the latest updates.

After a few audience hand-raising polls, we’re underway with a big picture question about Twitter’s ad platform.

Richard: The ad platform is real-time and is created for mobile users primarily. Sixty percent of our users are on mobile devices and that number is higher outside the US.

We believe that a good organic presence on Twitter is the way to start for a business, and the ad platform is a way to amplify.

We want brands to put users first. Second, the ads should be native. Third, we talk about Twitter as a bridge — it should connect to other ads and business opportunities.

The first ads showed up on Twitter about three years ago against some search terms. In the last year and a half, we kinda put our foot on the pedal and added more types of ads, targeting, etc.

The main ad product is a promoted tweet. It shows up in the user’s timeline, which is where most of the user activity is — especially on mobile device.

Second product is Promoted Accounts – a way to get more followers. This is auction-based, just like Promoted Tweets.

Third ad product is Promoted Trends, this is priced on a cost per day basis. It’s a great way to advertise a new product launch, for example.

DS: Who’s advertising? Is it small businesses, or big brands?

RA: In the beginning, the most traction was with big brands. Now we have small businesses using the self-serve platform and paying with a credit card. We have advertisers of all shapes and sizes now.

DS: You added the ability for advertisers to retarget. Is that available to everyone?

RA: That’s in the experimental stage still. When I joined the company, there was very little targeting available. Now there are more than a dozen ways you can target people. The retargeting is in very early alpha stage.

Discussion continues about specific targeting opps — including by mobile device, platform, etc.

DS: I haven’t seen many lead generation cards. Are those being used?

RA: We launched that at scale about a month ago so it’s still early days. But advertisers are using them. Users that interact with these ads give their email address to get something from the advertiser.

We have hundreds of advertisers using these and they’re getting great results. Big companies like the Gap and Mercedes-Benz, to small businesses like Rock Creek — this company had a 5% engagement and captured 1,700 leads in a week’s time. They were thrilled with this.

DS: How are you showing ROI to advertisers?

RA: This is the third big area for us. We tell them, if we can’t hit your marketing goals, we don’t want your money. Some brands are interested in engagement and volume of conversation. We’re great at measuring that. We’re getting better at doing lower-level measurement like with the lead-gen cards.

Thanks to our work with Datalogix, we’ve done a lot of work with consumer-package product companies and we can show how tweet activity impacts offline sales.

We’re also building out ways to help track online conversions. We’re all about measuring and being able to determine ROI up and down the marketing funnel.

DS: You’ve had a bunch of recent announcements related to TV, including the Amplify program. Give us an update…

RA: There’s a huge connection between Twitter and TV. TV makes Twitter better, and Twitter makes TV better. Twitter is driving tune-in. There’s a correlation and causation study from Nielsen that shows how Twitter is impacting TV. Twitter is the second screen experience for TV.

The latest thing we launched is TV ad targeting. We have a lot of info about what people are watching based on what people are tweeting about the shows, how they engage with other tweets about the shows, and so forth.

We think there’s a way to tie TV ad spending and online ad spending together.

DS: What about me, when I’m DVRing something and watching something three days later?

RA: Our most powerful user model is live TV, what happens when a program is airing and in the couple hours after. I DVR, too, but you forgo the shared experience. We think there’s a lot of room to play in the live TV experience.


DS: Do you see Twitter as saving live TV?

RA: It’s hard to say that Twitter’s saving live TV. Some things, like sporting events, are always important to experienced live. But there certainly are elements where we’re helping to drive the live TV experience in a positive way.

You mentioned Twitter Amplify earlier. We announced a couple deal last week — CBS and NFL. We have 30 partners overall in this program. It gives the NFL to tweet out a compelling highlight clip, and the NFL can sell sponsor packages on that. The NFL started doing this last Thursday night. If you’re not watching the game, it drives tune-in.

Verizon Wireless is the sponsor of this. They get a 5-second preroll before the 30-second highlight that the NFL tweets, so it’s short and doesn’t get in the way.

DS: Are these things only for the big brands, or can smaller businesses tap into what’s going on with Twitter and TV?

RA: I think there is. You can target people based on keywords related to TV shows and get some of the same benefits that bigger brands do.

DS: (asks about Facebook and TV)

RA: We worry about what our company is doing, not what others are doing. The fact that interaction is live and real-time on Twitter is what makes this song. We think Twitter is like live TV and other services are more like the DVR. On Twitter, all content is available to everyone. On other services, it’s more of a walled garden where the conversation maybe more limited by friending.

DS: (asks about recent Mopub acquisition announcement)

RA: We’re really excited about this. Two shifts we see align well with this deal. One, the shift to mobile. This isn’t new. This is what Twitter was built for — Mopub has the same DNA.

Second thing is programmatic buying. In the mobile world, this is anyone’s game. But we think Mopub is great in this space. We want to real-time bidding enable our ad buying. We think it can also improve the native ads experience beyond Twitter. We think this provides us with a business model that goes beyond Twitter’s borders.

DS: A lot of the real-time activity on Twitter isn’t about TV, like the #shutdown that people are tweeting about now.

RA: Tells the story about how the Star Trek cast interacted in real-time when Commander Hadfield was tweeting from space. Also the Oreo/Super Bowl story, and the recent Breaking Bad activity when Warren Buffett tweeted about it.

These “now” moments happen every day and it’s an opportunity for brands to get in front of the people involved in this. We don’t just think about target markets, we think about target moments.

DS: What tools help identify these moments? What advice do you give?

RA: It’s important to know what the important moments are for your business and audience. People tweet about camping on the weekend, going running, or just being hungry. We have some tools that help with this internally, and Topsy is a great tool that anyone can use — we use that internally, too.

You want to listen. Hear what people are talking about. And then as you engage, you want to be authentic to your brand and your audience — don’t be intrusive. If you’re smart about content and smart about targeting, we’re seeing 1-3% CTR on ads — I’ve been in display a long time and we used to always see 0.2% CTR.

DS: asks about keyword targeting in relation to search.

RA: The primary way we think about keyword targeting is within the timeline. You can target in Twitter search, and you should do both, but the majority of activity is in the timeline.

You can use your regular keywords from a Google or Bing ad campaign, but you have to understand that people don’t necessarily tweet in the same way they search. Someone says “I’m hungry for Italian food,” that’s an opportunity for Olive Garden, for example.

DS: What’s happening with Twitter search? Are many people using it? Do people use it similarly to how they use regular search engines?

RA: People do search on Twitter a lot. The fundamental mindset on Twitter is real-time and what’s happening right now. They want to see what’s happening with a term that’s trending.

The mindset on traditional search might be more long-term memory and looking for deeper information.

DS: What’s the solution to verification?

RA: Verification is a strange beast. When I joined Twitter, everyone asked me to do that, but I couldn’t help. The main point of verification is to help people whose identity may be confused. If Danny Sullivan has an impostor, we want people to know who the real person is.

DS: Asks about publisher links showing on tweets after embedding the tweet.

RA: The element of having tweets be broadly distributed is having them be embedded. It’s good for Twitter to have this content be distributed across the web. He talks about the tweet of the plane that crashed in the Hudson and how it was tweeted and embedded all over the web.

DS: What about the copyright issues of having photos be embedded everywhere, and can the photographer be paid somehow?

RA: We don’t have great plans for that, but it would be good if there was a way for that to happen.

And now we’re on to audience Q&A…

First question asks about rate-limits on tweeting, which hurts “now” moments when you’re doing live blogging or Twitter chats. Richard agrees that this can be a problem. Rate limits need to exist to fight abuse and spam, but the product team can look into dealing with this in legitimate use cases.

Another question about brands and dilemma between sales and branding. Audience member has clients who don’t see the value in Twitter and social media. Richard answers with a few examples of businesses that are successfully selling via offers and interesting content — “from a conversion perspective, they’re killing it.”

Apologies … due to technical issues, I missed the other 2-3 questions from the audience.

Thanks for reading along! With that, we’re finished.

Postscript: If you want to watch the keynote conversation, here’s our YouTube version.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Live Blogging | Top News | Twitter


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Marketing Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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