Latest resource: Maturing from social listening to digital consumer intelligence

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Latest resource: Maturing from social listening to digital consumer intelligence

A practical guide to levelling up how consumer insights are used across your organization

Read the guide

Published August 8th 2011

Why doesn’t Twitter advertise on TV?

A friend asked me this a few weeks ago. He said that he was aware that it sounded like a silly question and expected me to have an instant answer. I didn’t.

Some people might be simply thinking: “it doesn’t need to”. Well, assuming the Twitter people want as many people fully engaged with the network as possible, I think we are far away from saturation – only a small portion of those signed up really use it (last year it was reported that 73% of Twitter users had tweeted just 10 times or less).

So, I scrambled about a bit for some reasons and came up with these, but nothing definitive:

  1. Its success to date is built on digital word of mouth, the opposite of the old behemoth of television advertising.
  2. If it works, by its very nature it shouldn’t need to advertise – Facebook never did.
  3. It might feel like “selling out” and destroy any exclusivity that keen users and early-adopters feel and need to feel to stay engaged.

They are potential drawbacks, certainly. But there is one particular counterargument that could outweigh these.

What’s the point of Twitter?

Certainly, most people know of Twitter now, but there is still a very real barrier to wider adoption – many people just don’t see the point. People shun it when they don’t understand it, and can develop uninformed preconceptions that it’s simply not for them.

That’s where it differs from Facebook. There is really little to understand about Facebook. The concept of simply connecting with friends online is very intuitive and something people are used to from previous online services.

The concept of Twitter, however, is very different. The anatomy of it is much harder to grasp – the fact that you can follow anyone and anyone can follow you; the mystery of who sees who’s tweets and the confusion about generally where to start all make it much harder to immediately pick up.

TV advertising would give Twitter a chance to deliver a clear message, on their terms, about what it’s for and why so many people use it so adoringly. Various stats show the high-level of drop off amongst new users, clearly based on a lack of knowing where to start.

Entering the mainstream

At one point, Twitter may have been for a certain type of person, or certain type of geek, perhaps. In the last year though, it’s become far more mainstream.

It’s had substantial coverage in the news, both print and television. Celebrities from all areas now use it to promote themselves and connect with their fans. Twitter-commentary using hashtags is now a common part of most big TV shows or televised sports events.

Tweets including #bbcapprentice through the duration of the series (click for full size image):

The increased diversity of users and also the ways in which they engage with Twitter means that the nature of TV advertising and how it hits mainstream audiences is becoming more and more appropriate.

Ad ideas:

As a potentially dangerous strategy, the execution of the advertising would have to be absolutely spot on in order to win over potential new users whilst retaining the current user base.

Testimonials and case studies

A very common advertising technique – demonstrate how people from all walks of life use Twitter and show why the viewer could get something out of it just like they did.


Feature celebrities on the go using Twitter to connect with people – sportspeople, comedians, news reporters, musicians etc.


Definitely my favourite idea. Incorporate the live, real-time nature of Twitter by running an ad in the break of, for example, a big football match and featuring a feed of live tweets from people commenting on the game. The basis for the idea would be to encourage people to get involved in the conversation and have their opinions heard.

Interesting, but probably unlikely

Of course, it would be a pretty high-risk move. Perhaps Twitter really is only for a certain type of person (though bear in mind the same was probably said about Facebook at a time…) and those people would be put off by something like TV advertising.

Still, it’d certainly be interesting to see what the effects were – I wonder what the people at Twitter think.

Please let us know what you think. Would TV advertising be too dangerous for Twitter? Would it drive away incumbent users or would they simply not see a return?

EDIT: Someone has just suggested to me that Twitter gets more free advertising on TV than they could ever need (though not the case in France). This is definitely true in a way – it gets great news coverage (as mentioned above) when stories first break there – Bin Laden’s death, the superinjunctions and so on. This is fantastic for awareness and does sell one reason why people should take a look at it, but it doesn’t solve the problem of user drop-off. Their own campaign could allow them to demonstrate, in their chosen manner, how to get the most out of it and also show the various different ways people use it.

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