Twitter Ads: Terrible or Terrific?

In our endless quest to find the “next big thing” in PPC, we tried a small test at Portent on Portent products and services with Twitter ads.

I noticed there were many “how to get started” posts but few data-supported case studies with results. Armed with PPC intern Tim, a $100 head start from a promo code and some curiosity, we put Twitter ads to the test.  Below are our results, observations and speculations.

But as always, remember that your mileage may vary.

Setting Up Your Twitter Ad

This part was easy. Use a $100 code if you can and give yourself a head start. The trick is deciding what to promote, when and for how long. In our case we determined that it was unlikely that people would want to “buy” PPC or SEO services from us via Twitter, so we settled on:

  • A free webinar on SEO for small businesses
  • A free email series on internet marketing for the holidays
  • A $9.95 eBook on ad copy for PPC
  • Portent as a promoted account

As we went along, we found that Twitter ads “burn out” even faster than Facebook ads, so the testing period for each of these tweets lasted no more than 5 days.

Results for the Free Webinar

This was our most fiscally “aggressive” effort, spending the $100 code and another $100 just to see how many sign-ups we could get. We promoted a total of 3 tweets over 8 days, turning all ads off the morning of the webinar:

Chart 1-3

As you can see, the first tweet (where we spent the most cash), yielded the most impressions, the third tweet landed the best CTR and the second tweet resulted in the most sign ups. We used the same two hashtags each time: #smallbiz and #portentu, and mentioned the Twitter handle of the presenter as well. (The “X” for conversions on the first tweet is where intern Tim learned about tagging destination URLs for GA.)

We ran each tweet at $150 budget per day within the suggested bid range of $1.50 and made no changes to the bids until we decided to turn off that particular tweet. The majority of impressions came in the first 12 hours; that number slowly declined over the next day or two until we either turned the ad off or promoted a different tweet of the same content. None of the ads reached their daily budget. Not even close.

Results for the Holiday Email Series

On a whim, we decided to promote our email holiday series on internet marketing strategy.

Chart 4

And how did the promotion turn out?  The answer: not great. No sign ups. This ad also ran at $150 per day with $1.50 bid.

Results for the eBook

So what happens if you try to sell something directly? We chose my ad copy eBook because it is our newest offering in the Portent Store, has a friendly price point and well, it’s awesome. Unfortunately, we learned that yes, no one wants to buy anything on Twitter unless it’s the shirt off Robert Pattinson’s back:

Chart 5

We increased the CPC bid on this one to $2 to see if that would garner more clicks. It seems to have worked, since out of all the tweets this one racked up the most impressions and clicks over 3-4 days when compared to our second place tweet (re: the webinar).

Results for the Promoted Account

At this point, we decided to see if we might gain a few more followers by paying for a promoted account. I have to say I was surprised when we picked up 47 for $106. Not bad at $2.26 per follower. Depending on what your grand plans are, this could be a nice way to build your follower list.

Chart 6

Overall Observations on Twitter Ads

  • Promoting our tweet stream via Twitter ads seems to lead to more impressions, but since the social media department runs Portent’s feed to engage in broad conversations, we might actually wind up shooting ourselves in the foot. For example, we like to retweet and send out links from other cool people — and while these people are cool, we’re not into paying to send them our visitors.
  • Don’t forget to tag your ads! The first webinar tweet might have garnered some sign ups, but someone at Portent forgot to tag the ads.
  • The ads update in real time so it’s actually quite mesmerizing to watch when you first launch.

Will we try Twitter ads again? Yes and No.

Yes. We found Twitter ads to be more effective for garnering sign-ups on the webinar than Facebook ads or AdWords, and cheaper and easier to manage as well. If we feel like picking up a few more followers later on, or have a big thing happen in the world of PR (like our CEO Ian Lurie gets to be a contestant on The Price is Right), we’ll pick the promoted account back up again.

And no. For the eBooks, email series and anything we “sell,” Twitter ads just aren’t worth it… unless there is a sparkly vampire’s shirt attached.


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  1. This is a very good case study, Elizabeth! It does confirm what we’ve seen in social media advertising in general: that so long as your giving something away for free that has content value for your audience, social media works – both paid and just regular, old manual posting. However, the minute you try to sell something on social media, all our tests conclude exactly as yours does: people aren’t buying it. Interesting, they WILL buy through good, old fashioned social media “salesmanship” – that is, the one to one relationship-building and then posting a sales promotion. We’ve had very good success with this approach on Facebook and Twitter for a hotel client, for example. And we did have some good success using Facebook Offers (which is now paid). However, pushing SoMe “ads” in your followers’ faces to buy a product or service does not work.

  2. Interesting stats, thanks for sharing. Personally I don’t see any of the social sites as effective direct sales channels, more as branding mechanisms.
    I can see how there’d be value in using Twitter ads to build an email list, which IS a better sales channel. But I will just have to wait; unfortunately in the UK we’re not able to advertise on Twitter yet!

  3. Thanks for the data driven analysis. I think this confirms most case studies on Twitter that I’ve come across over the years – direct sales are lacking, but it can be effective at spreading the word and increasing reach of a brand.

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