Retargeter Blog

Twitter’s Ad Retargeting Tool: What Advertisers Need to Know

twitter image

Twitter has been regularly making updates to its suite of ad products, so it came as no surprise when early this July retargeting was introduced as the next tool available to Twitter advertisers. Twitter plans to slowly roll-out this feature by testing with a small number of advertisers in the U.S. However, given Facebook’s recent success with a similar retargeting technology, we can be sure that Twitter is anxious to expand its retargeting offerings once proven popular and effective.

What is Retargeting?

At its core, retargeting is a form of behavioral advertising that uses cookie-technology to help advertisers focus their digital advertising efforts and dollars on re-engaging with past website visitors and customers. A prototypical example of this technology is the Zappos case: you visit Zappos, look at a pair of shoes, and after leaving the site without completing a purchase, you begin to see Zappos shoe ads across the web — perhaps even ads for the specific pair of shoes you viewed. Advertisers continue investing in retargeting because serving ads to a targeted audience of past website visitors, rather than blasting display advertisements to the general masses, regularly proves to boost ROI.

What is Twitter Retargeting?

Twitter’s retargeting tool seems fairly straightforward– it lets advertisers target users who have visited their website or subscribe to their email newsletter. Digital marketers can serve promoted tweets to these specific users on their Twitter stream, through the use of cookies and anonymized email addresses. How it works: email addresses that exist in a company’s CRM can be matched with the email address registered to specific Twitter accounts. While this might seem like a breach in privacy, Twitter has issued statements regarding their plans for scrambling email addresses in order to ensure complete anonymity for their users.

Twitter vs. Facebook

There exist a few differences between Facebook retargeting and Twitter’s new offering. Facebook has a full-fledged ad exchange, called FBX, where advertisers are able to target users with ads using real-time bidding. Twitter has yet to establish an ad exchange, though Ad Age has reported that such a platform is currently undergoing development.  As it currently stands, Twitter’s retargeting relies on connecting user profiles to offline data provided by advertisers. To target certain users, advertisers must upload either a set of cookie IDs or email addresses from their internal databases. Cookie IDs function like small identification cards that report when certain users have visited certain sites, allowing advertisers to figure out which internet users have previously viewed their site. Twitter then matches the advertisers’ data with either the cookies or email addresses of the users on their social network to create the desired ad-customization. Emails provided by advertisers that do not match Twitter’s user database are disposed of, and all cookie and email information is kept private to ensure customer privacy.

In addition to FBX, Facebook offers Custom Audiences, a service where marketers may match ads to people by using email addresses and phone numbers. Facebook has experienced great success with both technologies, and it will be interesting to see whether Twitter’s similar services are equally as rewarding.

The Great Retargeting Debate

As social media giants continue to incorporate more established advertising elements into their platforms, like retargeting, it will be interesting to see if the nature of these social networks begin to change. Traditional site retargeting continues to gain popularity, but there is nothing particularly innovative in Twitter and Facebook’s decision to serve ads that reflect their users’ past website visits. Yahoo has long tracked users across the web in this way, and many independent platforms, such as ReTargeter and AdRoll, offer retargeting services far more advanced than Facebook and Twitter’s offering. Furthermore, social media platforms have always promised to tailor ads based on sophisticated social signals, such as Foursquare check-ins, Facebook likes, and Twitter hashtags. Therefore, the decision to begin incorporating more standard display-ad strategies such as retargeting into social platforms has generated discussion, and some criticism, among industry-members.

Ben Kunz, VP of Strategic Planning for Mediassociates, went as far as to dub the incorporation of these traditional ad-techniques as a sign of social’s targeting weakness.

“The irony of all this movement by Twitter and Facebook to match ads to emails or regular Web behavior is it shows the weakness of social behavior as an indicator of purchase…Chatting about something is nowhere near as powerful as searching for it, or giving a company your email address after you search. Retargeting based on real search intent and not social media frothy Likes or tweets is guaranteed to get a bigger response”

Whether this is a valid criticism remains unanswered. What is clear is that Facebook and Twitter obviously see value in delivering a mix of advertising services, and are developing news ways of doing so.

Associated Privacy Concerns and Responses

Behavioral advertising, and specifically cookie-based retargeting, is a highly controversial issue for Internet users. Misconceptions about what, if any, user information is revealed and used abound. Legally, no personally identifiable information may ever be used to target Internet-users without their consent, but many remain uncomfortable with the idea of being tracked anonymously.

This societal attitude has led to many companies incorporating ad-free or opt-out services to eliminate user discontent. For example, Mozilla implemented a “Do Not Track” setting in its web browser, Firefox, and similar settings are showing up on social platforms. Both Facebook and Twitter have “Do Not Track” options — though they are integrated into their sites quite differently. Perhaps as a means of differentiating itself, Twitter has included a very easy-to-use system for users to opt-out of third party data all together, and has made sure to promote it.

Kevin Weil, Sr. Director of Product, Revenue at Twitter explains:

“Simply uncheck the box next to ‘Promoted content’ in your account settings, and Twitter will not match your account to information shared by our ad partners for tailoring ads…This is the only place you’ll need to disable this feature on Twitter.”

As Weil explains, Twitter users who do not want to receive targeted advertisements may change a single account setting of theirs to discontinue promoted tweets. In contrast, Facebook has received criticism for making their opt-out feature a multi-step process because of the hassle it poses for users.

Tips for Twitter Retargeting

To make the most of Twitter’s retargeting service, brands should be cognizant of what exactly it is that they hope to achieve. Given the immense user-brand interaction on Twitter, money spent delivering one-sided promotional content on the social network is money wasted. However, establishing an ongoing dialogue and continued interaction with Twitter’s unique user base can be highly advantageous for advertisers. Digital advertiser’s have the opportunity to create brand loyalty, generate valuable customer feedback, and to help promote valuable messaging to brand advocates. Therefore, the key for brands is to figure out how best to integrate Twitter with their existing marketing strategy. Twitter is a unique channel to nurture prospects and customer relationships, rather than just another platform for standard ad inventory — and advertisers would be well off to integrate retargeting into their Twitter ad-strategy.