Two Twitter evangelists, head of communications Nathan Burman and international revenue manager Olly Wilton, are currently making the agency rounds in New Zealand as part of a push to increase the scale of the social media company's business in the local market.
Over the course of the last week, the pair have met with various agencies and media outlets to discuss why it's worthwhile to shift ad spend to the network.
"It’s not just about coming in and promoting the advertising model. We want Twitter to be used for organisational purposes," says Wilton. "We want people to use it for their customer service, broadcasts, searches. We want to be that connective tissue that goes between outdoor, events and TV advertising. Twitter can sit very nicely in the middle of all those things. We want to be more visible in the market."
Twitter has already been in the Australian market for approximately two years, growing its original staff of four to around 40, but this marks the first time that the company is making a direct move into New Zealand.
"We’ve only been here since the first of July. We had a reseller before that," says Wilton. "We were working with Komli (a digital network sales house) over here, and they’ve been running the advertising business on behalf of us. But it’s come to the point where we’ve recognised enough of an appetite."
Taking over from Komli does not however imply that Twitter will be opening an office on this side of the ditch straight off the bat.
"The way it works is that we normally arrive in a market with a revenue team to size up the opportunity here and then we can look at the financials. Again, it’s a cultural thing as well. If the local market demands people on the ground (as Facebook and Google has recognised), then it’s definitely something we’ll look into."
The reference to Facebook and Google is an important one, because Twitter will have some catching up to do with its tech competitors. Locally, Google and Facebook have already been quite successful at attracting ad spend to their respective platforms, and Twitter will now have to convince advertisers that it offers something different.
However, Wilton doesn't see its competitors' headstart as a bad thing.
"They’ve done a big channel job for us. They’ve told people that there’s a different way to spend your advertising dollars. They’ve said there’s a social context. There are different platforms you can advertise on. So a lot of that chimes with what we’re doing."
While the move will see Twitter's investment increase in New Zealand, local advertisers have already used the platform for the purposes of advertising. At first, only bigger advertisers were given access to the advertising services on the platform, but the company extended its Twitter Ads offering into the local market last year, making it possible for small- to medium-sized businesses to access some of the opportunities available.
"There are two channels that go into our business," says Wilton. "There’s the SMB platform that allows anyone, regardless of the size of the business, to jump in and start using our products on credit card. Someone like a plumber in Invercargill can just jump in and target anyone who’s talking about burst water pipes. We’re supporting those guys, but it’s really a lighter form of support in the shape of online resources."
But Twitter's latest move places emphasis on the bigger, more lucrative advertisers.
"The main meetings we’re having now are with the advertising agencies, because they offer the most scalable opportunities. We have a few brands that have already been quite active on the platform. Microsoft, Air New Zealand, New Zealand Tourism have all jumped on and have been using it for a while now."
The objective now is to attract more of these larger advertisers and up-sell those already on the platform. But this could prove challenging, given that Twitter doesn't quite have the scale its competitors have.
"[Our user numbers] are a bit of a fixation of Wall Street, since we’ve become a publicly traded company," says Wilton.
"All they want to talk about is our monthly active users. And it’s not exactly the right way to look at Twitter, because we have 300 million active global users who log into the platform every month and an additional 500 million who visit as part of a logged out experience. We also have syndication where people view tweets in third party apps. People view it in Google search results in the States and Yahoo search results in Japan. A huge number of Tweets are actually consumed within those third party platforms. So focusing on the user growth really misses an important piece of the puzzle."
He adds that another major advantage of Twitter is that it allows for the targeting of audiences not based on perceptions of who they are but rather what they're interested in.
"Twitter is the shortest distance between you and what interests you the most," he says.
"Most digital advertising platforms are like, “We can target men between this and this age who are interested in sport’. The way we do it is not based on demographics because, as you’ll remember when you signed up for Twitter, we only ask you for your name, handle and email address. So what we do is target people based on the signals they give us on the platform. So we base our advertising on moments rather than markets. It’s saying what these people search for, what do they target, what do they engage with? We think those real-time digital signals are far more powerful than demographics."
Another major concern for brands on Twitter is that a faux pas always seems a single Tweet away. As illustrated by the recent resignation of Herald columnist Pebbles Hooper, Twitter can at times go very wrong for those posting on the network. And this also applies to brands.
In response to a query about the perceived riskiness of having a commercial presence on Twitter, embodied by social media controversies like Woolworths’ attempt at a branded Anzac Day website, Wilton says the nature of Twitter enables brands to defend themselves and turn the situation around.
And Wilton says that Twitter is in some ways superior to traditional advertising.
“If you’re running a TV ad, you have people sitting on the sofa shouting about how much they hate your brand or how shit your advertising is. On Twitter at least you’ve got the right of reply now."
He points to Vodafone’s handling of the hashtag #vodafail, used by customers to complain about its service. The company monitors the hashtag and gets in touch with those tweeting it to offer assistance.
Another tool that Twitter has in its arsenal is a “Buy” button, which is currently being tested by a number of retailers in the US. Wilton says the Australian team are “dying for it” to be introduced Down Under, but his best guess is that it may be rolled out later this year.
- Read more on how Twitter is reaching out to retailers at The Register.