Finding The Right Role For Twitter In The Social Media Marketing Mix

Twit­ter can be used to build aware­ness, dri­ve engage­ment, and play a cru­cial role in cus­tomer ser­vice. But how do you strike the right bal­ance?

Andrew Smith By Andrew Smith from Escherman. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Twit­ter is the undis­put­ed king of real-time mar­ket­ing in social media. And yet brands are often chal­lenged to work out exact­ly what role it should play in the mix. It can be used to cre­ate aware­ness, dri­ve engage­ment, and play a cru­cial role in cus­tomer ser­vice. But how do you strike the right bal­ance? Recent devel­op­ments in terms of the platform’s func­tion­al­i­ty and audi­ence make up may point to a clear­er under­stand­ing of the true role of Twit­ter in con­sumer mar­ket­ing.

What is the best way to use Twit­ter in the social mar­ket­ing mix? It’s a ques­tion increas­ing­ly being asked by brands as they wres­tle with how best to allo­cate resources to get the most out of the plat­form. In order to come up with an opti­mal answer, let’s look at some of the key con­sid­er­a­tions when decid­ing on an effec­tive Twit­ter approach.

Organic Reach

Much has been made of the ever dwin­dling organ­ic reach of Face­book. And yet it could be argued that Twit­ter suf­fers from much the same prob­lem (albeit for dif­fer­ent rea­sons).

On Face­book, the squeeze on organ­ic is dri­ven by the increas­ing vol­ume of con­tent and the use of algo­rithms to select the con­tent shown in a user’s feed. Twit­ter doesn’t fil­ter any­thing. It throws every­thing at you in chrono­log­i­cal order. As con­tent vol­ume increas­es on Twit­ter, the like­li­hood of your con­tent being seen organ­i­cal­ly con­tin­ues to fall in a sim­i­lar way to Face­book.

When Twit­ter began mak­ing actu­al impres­sion data avail­able last year, many mar­keters were dis­ap­point­ed by the gen­er­al­ly low num­bers. Where­as pre­vi­ous­ly they may have used aggre­gat­ed fol­low­er num­bers to deter­mine poten­tial reach, the actu­al data shows that the aver­age tweet reach­es around 3 to 5 per­cent of an account’s total fol­low­er base (assum­ing they are real accounts and not fakes).

Brands seek­ing to use Twit­ter to build aware­ness organ­i­cal­ly are going to have to invest heav­i­ly in con­tent that will per­suade peo­ple to share it in suf­fi­cient num­bers to dri­ve up organ­ic reach. And there is no guar­an­tee of viral­i­ty.

Twitter As A Paid-For Platform

Twitter’s adver­tis­ing plat­form has evolved con­sid­er­ably over the last 12 months. The gran­u­lar­i­ty of tar­get­ing is con­sid­er­able, and Twit­ter offers a wide vari­ety of ad for­mat oppor­tu­ni­ties as well as con­ver­sion track­ing capa­bil­i­ty.

Giv­en the chal­lenge of organ­ic reach, then using a paid-for approach may well be the best way to use Twit­ter for the pur­pose of reach and vis­i­bil­i­ty. Hav­ing said that, sim­ply repur­pos­ing a TV ad for pro­mo­tion on Twit­ter prob­a­bly isn’t going to be as effec­tive as con­tent built for social.


Anoth­er fac­tor to con­sid­er is the pri­ma­cy of Twit­ter usage on mobile. Most tweet­ing is done on a mobile device today.

Twit­ter users are gen­er­al­ly pas­sive con­sumers rather than active par­tic­i­pants. Get­ting the tweet to appear on a small mobile screen and arrest­ing the atten­tion of the typ­i­cal user is no meant feat. Atten­tion to con­text and tim­ing is para­mount.

Demographics & Behavior

Depend­ing on the coun­try, the demo­graph­ics of Twit­ter users are often heav­i­ly skewed towards younger age brack­ets. Mak­ing assump­tions about gen­er­al pop­u­la­tions based pure­ly on Twit­ter can lead to erro­neous con­clu­sions.

The cur­rent UK gen­er­al elec­tion cam­paign is an excel­lent exam­ple. Adam Park­er, CEO Real­wire has writ­ten about how the UK media is mak­ing pre­dic­tions about vot­er inten­tions based on a naive analy­sis of Twit­ter data. UK Twit­ter users aren’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the over­all vot­ing pop­u­la­tion. And the appar­ent ampli­fi­ca­tion of cer­tain par­ties mes­sages is actu­al­ly the result of a small, but high­ly active group of par­ti­san users.

In a sim­i­lar way, con­sumer mar­keters need to take care in under­stand the demo­graph­ic make­up of Twit­ter and to what extent it tru­ly rep­re­sents the audi­ences they are try­ing to reach.

The Rise Of Social Search

Face­book revealed that more than 1 bil­lion search­es are con­duct­ed on its mobile app every day. While not on the same scale, the aver­age Twit­ter user will per­form at least one search on the plat­form per day.

The rise of social search con­tin­ues. What is par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing is that it is indica­tive of peo­ple using social search in much the same way as they use Google search – to val­i­date the claims a brand makes through its adver­tis­ing and aware­ness cam­paigns.

Increas­ing­ly, a key role of social is in the con­sid­er­a­tion phase of the sales fun­nel. This sug­gests that the cus­tomer ser­vice role of Twit­ter takes on an addi­tion­al impor­tance, name­ly, that the vis­i­bil­i­ty of pos­i­tive inter­ac­tions could have a key role on prospects fur­ther up the fun­nel and that prop­er resource and con­sid­er­a­tion should giv­en to the cus­tomer ser­vice role of Twit­ter.

Where Does This Leave The Consumer Marketer?

First, it is impor­tant to be crys­tal clear about your objec­tives and what role you hope Twit­ter can play. Also, be aware of the demo­graph­ics and behav­ioral bias­es of Twit­ter users.

The days of see­ing Twit­ter as a way of gain­ing cheap reach are prob­a­bly long gone (if they ever exist­ed). If reach is the aim, then a paid-for ele­ment is almost cer­tain­ly need­ed. If engage­ment is the goal, then be aware that a rel­a­tive­ly small sub­set of the Twit­ter user base are the ones most like­ly to engage at all.

Depend­ing on the audi­ences tar­get­ed, it may well be the Twit­ter isn’t an appro­pri­ate venue for proac­tive engage­ment. But the role of Twit­ter as a con­sumer val­ida­tor is going to be hard for brands to ignore.

There prob­a­bly will need to be a com­men­su­rate increase in focus on the cus­tomer ser­vice ele­ment of Twit­ter (the recent­ly rein­tro­duced abil­i­ty to open up direct mes­sag­ing to any user rather than just rec­i­p­ro­cal fol­low­ers sug­gests that Twit­ter too is look­ing at ways to help expand the abil­i­ty for dif­fer­ent types of inter­ac­tion with­in a com­mu­ni­ty).


A brand’s over­all goals and objec­tives should dri­ve the best use of Twit­ter. The chal­lenge will be to make sure that the right goals are aligned with an appro­pri­ate use of Twit­ter in rela­tion to the true nature of the plat­form and the audi­ence.

Andrew Smith

Written by Andrew Smith

Director, Escherman

Andrew Bruce Smith is the founder and Managing Director of digital communications consultancy Escherman. With a career spanning 29 years, Andrew has implemented many successful marketing communications programmes for brands such as IBM, MySQL, and Apple. He is co-author of two best-selling social media books - Share This: a practical handbook to the biggest changes taking place in the media and its professions (Wiley 2012). And Share This Too: More Social Media Solutions for PR Professionals (Wiley 2013). Andrew is also a trainer in measurement, evaluation, social media, analytics and SEO for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), a member of the CIPR Social Media panel and a guest lecturer at the University of Leeds Business School.

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