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Marketing Social Media

When to Use Promoted Tweets in Your Twitter Marketing Strategy

6 Minute Read

Twitter offers a few different ways for brands to invest into paid advertising, but let’s be clear: the real money is in Promoted Tweets. According to Kinetic Social’s Social Trends Report, Promoted Tweets are responsible for the vast majority of Twitter’s ad revenue, accounting for 88 percent of all advertising buys.

When it comes to Twitter marketing, most brands only occasionally turn to promoting accounts and appearing in the Promoted Trends feature on the platform. More often than not, if you’re working on a strategy and looking for paid promotion, you’re almost certainly looking to promote individual Tweets.

And there’s plenty of reason to do so, especially given the alternatives. Promoting an account can be a tricky maneuver: you’re banking on brand recognition, for one, and for consumers to immediately recognize the value of following along. There is also less opportunity to drive engagement—a critical component of successful marketing on Twitter.

Individual Tweets tend to fare better because they are more effective on the platform. They can speak to specific experiences and trends, clearly illustrate their particular values, and can drive engagement even among users who won’t follow your brand or walk away with any lasting impression. With a Promoted Tweet, there are more possible positive outcomes, and there’s more flexibility in how you try to target that engagement.

The goal, of course, is to use compelling content to reach a larger audience, and to drive engagement with your brand. A well-crafted Tweet can do that, although it takes skill, smart planning, and a little luck to make it go viral. Here’s a look at some of the best branded Tweets in Twitter’s short-but-glorious history, each of them offering lessons in how to build a better promotion strategy.

@MarsCuriosity: “Best. Road Trip. Ever.”

Sometimes, brands put too much pressure on themselves to drive conversions or sales.

Sometimes, brands put too much pressure on themselves to drive conversions or sales.”
Hard sells on Twitter aren’t likely to reel in strong results, especially when you’re promoting Tweets that push firm calls to action. Users often look at those Tweets as the social equivalents of cold calling. Even if they don’t draw this negative conclusion, they’re unlikely to be moved to click a link, follow an account, or visit a web page simply because a paid Tweet urges them to do so.

For effective promotion, Tweets need to be engaging in their own rights. It’s no different than TV advertising: the best content gets the best results. And just as TV commercials tend to do best when they hit a nerve or offer great entertainment, Promoted Tweets should aim to do the same.

Take the Twitter account NASA set up for its Curiosity rover, which is currently conducting research on Mars. The very idea of a robot having a Twitter feed is funny in its own right, but the content it publishes is at high risk of being too data- and science-heavy, and not entertaining enough to captivate an audience beyond scientists and space enthusiasts. But the brains behind @MarsCuriosity have given the account a refreshing, engaging voice, mixing a sassy approach with pop culture references to make its Mars content both entertaining and educational:


Of course, NASA’s Curiosity rover has no need to try and drive conversions or sales, or even traffic to their website. But they do need loyalty, engagement and excitement from the public about what the organization is doing, which isn’t all that different from what a commercial brand requires. NASA is using its voice to create a more exciting experience. When a Tweet is able to leverage that voice for a playful, funny, or otherwise culturally prescient moment, it pays for brands to invest in a little promotion.

@Oreo: “Power Out? No Problem.”

Pop culture references can be extremely valuable if you can work them into your Twitter content, assuming they align with your brand’s voice. In some cases, though, the window of opportunity for such a reference is small. While individual Twitter users can have fun seizing the moment, brand accounts aren’t nearly as agile—meaning they’re less likely to get in on the fun.

There are exceptions, though. In 2013, an unexpected blackout during the Super Bowl brought the year’s biggest sporting event to a sudden halt. Enter Oreo, which saw an opportunity and quickly took advantage on social media. The brand published a Tweet with a photo that generated a ton of engagement, and became one of the most talked-about branded Tweets in Twitter’s history:


The payoff was big: more than 15,300 Retweets and nearly 6,800 Likes. According to BuzzFeed, the possibility for such a timely Tweet was forged by Oreo’s close working relationship with a digital ad agency, which allowed the project to be green-lighted within a few minutes.

“We had a mission control set up at our office with the brand and 360i, and when the blackout happened, the team looked at it as an opportunity,” said 360i president Sarah Hofstetter to BuzzFeed. “Because the brand team was there, it was easy to get approvals and get it up in minutes.”

Putting together this kind of quick turnaround approach isn’t easy, and it will take planning for brands to have a good protocol in place. But if you’re able to churn out quick, high-impact content with a limited shelf life, paid promotion can help you make the most of that opportunity.

@Gillette: “Back to My 3s.”

Twitter is fertile grounds for playful ribbing as a marketing ploy—but it needs to be done a certain way. Competing brands routinely engage in a little back-and-forth to assert their dominance over one another. This is particularly common among sports teams, but it can even happen between brands like Old Spice and Taco Bell, which back in 2012 famously went back and forth over the merits of their fire sauce and deodorant ingredients.

When these conversations go well, they’re sometimes worth throwing a little paid promotion and analyzing the results. But tone is incredibly important: Too much negativity can sour the experience and cause more damage than good. A prime example of this comes from Gillette, which used Twitter’s Promoted Tweets to promote unhappy customer criticisms of one of its top rivals, Dollar Shave Club:


While Gillette gets points for being creative, the brand drew harsh criticism online for embracing such an aggressive, negative strategy. Some critics also pointed out that since negative Tweets could be funded or fabricated by the Gillette team itself, it opens the door to unwarranted attack advertising built upon lies and deception.

There’s also a practical argument against this promotional approach: Gillette’s Tweets simply lack the entertaining, engaging qualities that have made other Tweets successful. While the company is quick to ding Dollar Shave Club for its unsatisfying product, Gillette did no better by running a paid promotion for Tweets that do nothing to engage the masses.

In the end, the best Promoted Tweets will have mass appeal, flex your brand’s social media voice, and offer basic humor or pop culture relevance that will draw the eyes of a wide audience—including consumers outside of your target group. If you can manage those three things, you’ve got yourself a great candidate for Twitter marketing success.

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Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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