Ad buyers hopeful Twitter Topics will improve the platform’s ad targeting

twitter gears

Twitter this week fully rolled out Topics, a new feature that lets users follow popular tweets across broad subject interests like “K-Pop,” “fishing” or “Nascar,” including those from accounts they don’t follow. Twitter will also be customizing ads for users based on the Topics they follow, according to a people familiar with the plans.

Users will be able to follow some 300 topics to start, with tweets appearing in their timelines curated by a mix of Twitter’s algorithms and human review. Ad buyers are hopeful the new product will improve Twitter’s interest-based ad targeting.

Twitter’s sense of what users are interested in can be broad and somewhat puzzling. A search of the author of this article’s “Interests from Twitter” page included topics ranging from “water” and “egg” to “weather” and “孫正義” — SoftBank’s billionaire CEO Masayoshi Son. (You can click here to view your own.)

Maria Karaoli, media activation business director at media agency Essence, said she thinks Topics “will allow Twitter to offer more accurate and detailed interest targeting because users will actively select which topics to follow.”

In an emailed statement, JP Maheu, Twitter vp of U.S. client services, said topics will make it easier for users to follow their interests, adding that the cultural relevance of brands feeds into consumers’ purchase decisions.

“Topics is yet another resource that empowers not only consumers but also marketers. From topics like painting, to NBA, or Game of Thrones, the new feature will enable brands to increase their cultural relevance and build equity with audiences,” Maheu said. “We look forward to exploring how we can integrate these cues into our future ad products.”

While the product update might seem iterative from a consumer perspective, enhancing its ad targeting around specific topics and events could be a differentiator in the eyes of advertisers, particularly in the build-up to big events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars that tend to command high ad prices, said Shamsul Chowdhury, vp paid social at digital agency Jellyfish. And enhancement to Twitter’s ad targeting was needed, Chowdhury said.

Chowdhury also added that Twitter has stumbled in the past when launching new ad products. Chowdhury recalled that in a previous role, one of his clients was among the first to run a Promoted Moment, but the campaign underperformed and “wasn’t picking up what we necessarily thought it would for the price tag.”

“Oftentimes advertisers are very unforgiving and have very short-term memories: If something comes out the gate and it’s not right, they are not going to touch it again in six months, or ever,” Chowdhury said.

Twitter’s stock nose-dived last month after the company reported third-quarter revenue and earnings that fell below analysts’ expectations. The company said unexpected bugs within its mobile app promotion products had hampered its ability to target ads effectively and report data to measurement partners. The company said it expects the blowback of the issue to continue into the fourth quarter.

Ad buyers also expect Twitter will follow its usual playbook of introducing a “sponsored” offering to Topics later down the line, much like it did with publishers’ Moments, Promoted Trends and Promoted Trend Spotlight ads within its Explore tab.

Regular ads will still sit between tweets on users’ timelines. So even before Twitter rolls out a dedicated Twitter Topics ad product, “advertisers can best leverage this opportunity through relevant targeting strategies like keyword targeting and conversation targeting to reach consumers who might be engaged with relevant topics,” according to Natalie Carder, social lead for media agency Zenith Global.

Topics could also be a boon for brands and publishers hoping to boost their organic reach on Twitter, according to social agency We Are Social’s head of strategy, Harvey Cossell. Topics could also give social media managers more clarity about the people who are influential about a particular subject.

“If your content is on the beat of the cultural discourse, then you’re going to increase the probability of being noticed,” Cossell said. “Topics can also hold lots of different points of view, so it can take you beyond your echo chamber.”

Twitter is hoping Topics will help new users with the onboarding process, encouraging them to stick around for longer even if they don’t follow or engage with many accounts. Of course, more users and increased dwell time give Twitter more chances to serve ads. Twitter said it had 145 million “monetizable daily active users” in its third quarter, up 17% year over year.

Update: This post has been updated to correct Twitter’s third-quarter monetizable daily active user number and growth on the prior year.

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