Campaign pros are taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to advertising on Twitter.
Political advertising hit the microblogging site for the first time late last month with four presidential campaigns and some major party committees taking part in Twitter’s pilot program. Among those who have already run sponsored tweets: the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The political advertisements follow a format similar to corporate sponsored tweets—promoted political tweets and accounts will appear with a purple “promoted” button beneath them. An FEC disclaimer appears when users roll over the promoted tweet with their cursor.
Earlier this week, Twitter also launched an advertising blog and an account called @TwitterAds with the goal of keeping people in the know about Twitter’s burgeoning ad options.
As it builds up its political sales team, Twitter says the program will be expanded to include additional campaigns and offerings as the 2012 cycle heats up. When that happens, the question for campaigns is not only how to approach advertising on the medium, but whether or not it holds real value.
“I think people need to play with it and see what value is in it for them,” says Amy Gonzalez, president of Blueprint Interactive, a Democratic firm focused on new media strategy.
With questions about cost, efficiency and strategy still looming for campaigns, Gonzalez predicts that most will approach political advertising on Twitter with some level of caution and that campaigns will engage in plenty of trial and error before figuring out how to adapt the new advertising platform to their specific needs.
For candidates and campaigns, it’s either an exhilarating or terrifying prospect depending on your social media comfort level.
“A lot of this is wait-and-see and I think it just remains to be seen how it will really play out,” says Brian Donahue, a partner at Craft Media Digital. “Will Twitter expand the options? What exactly will they allow and not allow moving forward?”
Donohue says clients haven’t been inquiring specifically about ad options on Twitter just yet, but he expects it’s only a matter of time.
“More than ever our clients are asking, ‘What are our options online? Where can we be?’” he says. “With Facebook, we have clients who more and more see those ads and want to know what it costs and what the benefit is.”
After picking the brains of a few digital media pros, a handful of early Twitter ad strategies emerged:
Emphasize Your Real-time Presence: Twitter is most effective at “amplifying good news, spreading conversation and adapting the conversation,” says Gonzalez.
Promoted tweets will appear at the top of a user’s search results, giving the campaign first view and a valuable opportunity to reinforce their message of the moment to users.
The ability to quickly get a promoted message in front of Twitter users as a topic is trending or a relevant piece of news is breaking is perhaps the most natural way for campaigns to apply Twitter’s new advertising tools.
“I think people will really want to get ahead of sponsored tweets,” says Julie Germany, vice president digital strategy at DCI Group.
Campaigns should also think about moments when Twitter traffic is heaviest—during a debate or a major campaign event, for example. Specifically designed rebuttals or promoted tweets in those instances may not only help drive the message, but can also serve as a campaign’s best method of rapid response.
Reach the Influencers—More sophisticated Twitter users, especially those inside the Beltway, tend to use their Twitter feeds as an RSS in the morning.
“People wake up and check their news feed in the morning to see what’s in the news,” says Germany. “This will serve the people who are already paying attention.”
Specifically targeting influencers or those inside the Beltway to help reinforce a message could be a strategy in and of itself, says Donahue.
“You’re reaching such a high value audience that it’s only natural,” he says. “So many Twitter users are concentrated in the D.C.-area and it has become such a medium for people in the political space.”
Capitalize on the Mobility: Twitter is a mobile medium. According to the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of users access Twitter from their smartphone. Promoted messages can be modeled to invite people already on the move to attend an event, volunteer or become the eyes and ears of the campaign in a given community.
“I think whichever side invests more money and thought and time will come out ahead on this,” says Germany.
Twitter is also adding names to its political sales team. Peter Greenberger (formerly of Google) will head up political sales for Twitter with the comany promising an expanded team to come.