Why Advertisers Need to Think Native

Native advertising is the latest buzzword. Even venerable publishers such as The New York Times, The Atlantic and Forbes, are trying it out. Is the trend bound to fade, or is it here to stay? Despite some shoddy applications, it’s here to stay.

Native advertising is the latest buzzword. Even venerable publishers such as The New York Times, The Atlantic and Forbes, are trying it out. Is the trend bound to fade, or is it here to stay? Despite some shoddy applications, it’s here to stay.

Although the term “native advertising” was coined by the venture capitalist Fred Wilson just under two years ago, the concept is neither new nor unprecedented. It covers any advertising format that is customized to the user experience of a given platform. Or, in the words of Gini Dietrich, native advertising “integrates high-quality content into the organic experience of a given platform.” A 30-second ad during the Super Bowl? Native. Sponsored stories in Facebook? Native. Paid results on Google? Native. The brilliant humor pieces produced by the Onion that overtly pitch products? Native.

All of these advertising formats work within the existing user experience of a medium to deliver messaging that enhances the experience, or at the least does not interrupt the flow of it. Where it goes wrong is when it interrupts or detracts from the user-experience in fundamental ways.

Take the controversy over the The Atlantic‘s favorable article on scientology, which was paid for by Scientology in response to another more negative story. Readers of the magazine had a hard time distinguishing that this was, in fact, bought. The tone and the format mimicked standard Atlantic articles. By eliding the distinction between paid and editorial content, Atlantic was undermining its reputation for objectivity. Users come to the Atlantic for powerful, independent thinking on society and current affairs. An ad that mimics the form of an independent piece of writing on an important cultural topic detracts from its reputation for independence. Andrew Sullivan goes even further:

“This is corporate propaganda, not journalism. Yes, it is identified as such—but on the video page, actual journalism by brilliant writers like Alexis Madrigal is interspersed with corporate-funded propaganda. You can easily mistake one for the other.”

Not all publishers need to be as careful about creating clear divisions between their editorial content and their sponsored content. Aggregators and news repackagers, such as BuzzFeed or the Huffington Post, are already taking information from a variety of sources. But even they need to ensure the quality of the content and the clarity of tags that show the content as sponsored. People don’t mind paid content if it provides useful information or entertainment value—or if the paid content resides in a context where all of the content is highly opinionated. SayMedia has thrived in this niche by providing content with strong positions on trends, tech and society. Including paid content fits right in.

The real potential for native advertising, however, is where it actually enhances the user experience in new media formats. The Onion has proudly embraced its cynicism, best stated in a column by its advertising columnist Hammond Morris, “Look, I know this may all seem somewhat untoward, and we can go through a whole dog-and-pony show here where I pretend that this column exists as a forum for ideas, and that I act as an independent voice who isn’t beholden to advertisers, and the power of the First Amendment, and blah blah, etc. etc. But let’s get real for a second here, okay? This column—nay, this entire website, this entire industry we call journalism—exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to sell ads. Lots of ads.”

It’s not just that it’s completely self-aware, it produces advertising that’s genuinely funny. The Onion has gone as far as setting up its own in-house creative group called Onlon Labs with the goal of creating funny, self-aware advertising completely in-line with the rest of the Onion‘s content.

The New York Times last week introduced a native advertising format that likewise provide useful information for its readers. The content appears as a tab in The Scoop, the Times‘ activities discovery app, and it provides information about the Citibank-promoted bikeshare program. According to the press release: “This is just one example of how we are working more closely with our advertisers to create unique and custom campaigns to help them tell their brand story in innovative ways,” said Denise Warren, executive vice president, Digital Products and Services Group, The New York Times. “The integration of Citi Bike’s robust content complements The Scoop app’s main objective—to serve as a guide to New York City. With these new features, we hope to further enhance the experience for users of The Scoop as they explore the city using their iPhone.”

Whether or not the tab gains widespread usage is an open question. But the Times did its homework. It knows how people use its media properties. It knows the information that would be useful to its users. And it knows what will compromise its underlying credibility. With that knowledge, it created a new advertising product. That’s how advertisers need to think.

The key takeaway for advertisers is you need to know how a user interacts with the medium—and that new media might have native advertising formats that completely differ from existing formats. Advertorials and space ads might make sense in a lot of contexts, but even more effective formats might open up if you just think about what actually enhances the user’s experience. That’s the promise of native.

4 Things Mobile Users Need

With the speed at which mobile technology and innovation is occurring these days, it’s almost impossible to keep up. With more and more consumers adopting smartphones or tablets and relying on them in everyday shopping decisions, it’s put them in the driver’s seat. As a business owner, it’s your job to keep up.

With the speed at which mobile technology and innovation is occurring these days, it’s almost impossible to keep up.

With more and more consumers adopting smartphones or tablets and relying on them in everyday shopping decisions, it’s put them in the driver’s seat. As a business owner, it’s your job to keep up.

The best way to keep up with mobile consumers is to understand their needs.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about an interview I had with Brad Frost, a thought leader in the responsive design community. He broke down what is essentially the mobile hierarchy of needs.

He used the pictured pyramid to discuss a mobile user’s needs as it relates to a mobile website; however, I believe these needs apply to more than just mobile Web …

In fact, I think these four needs are key to business success when integrating mobile into the business.

1. Access

At the foundation of the pyramid, you have Access. As Frost will tell you, this means giving the users what they want. When we’re talking about mobile Web, this essentially means giving them the info they are looking for. If they came to your site for tips on cooking the perfect steak … they should be able to find that.

As for overall mobile strategy, you need to consider what your mobile customer needs. Can you give them access to tools that will help them in their lives? Can you give access to specials or coupons while they are on the go?

Access is the first and most important component of success with mobile.

2. Interaction

As Frost mentioned in our conversation, interaction usually results in navigation as it pertains to your mobile website.

Simply, can the user get around your site to accomplish the desired result?

When considering your overall strategy, creating campaigns that allow consumers to interact with you and your business will often lead to deeper engagement and increased conversion opportunities.

3. Performance

Performance is often overlooked—mainly because marketers make too many assumptions about our user.

Your users won’t always have the fastest Internet connection and, despite that, expect your site to load faster than the desktop, although that rarely happens when looking at most mobile sites vs. their desktop counterparts.

Your mobile strategy should be focused on performance, as well. When I think of performance from a strategic standpoint, I think of giving the users what they want as fast and efficiently as possible at my lowest cost.

4. Enhancement

At the top of the pyramid, we have enhancement.

As Frost explained, mobile is inherently different from desktop. Mobile browsers can do things that desktop browsers cannot.

If your customer needs to complete a mobile Web form, you can offer your user different keyboards to help provide important info, such as a phone number.

When it comes to strategy, it’s important to remember mobile is different. Thus, you must consider how you can leverage that in reaching your goals. Can you use location or the accelerometer to give extra value to your customers as you begin to better understand their context?

Whether you’re developing a mobile website or looking for guides as you develop a winning mobile strategy, moving forward with the hierarchy of mobile needs in mind puts you in the best position to succeed.

As a small business owner, this can be your advantage. Because, quite frankly … many big brands fail to do this today.

Now it’s your turn … What are you doing to satisfy your customer’s mobile needs?

Facebook Embraces Direct Response

Facebook dominates the Web, but it’s never really cracked the direct response puzzle. That looks like it will change in 2013 with an avalanche of new measurement and targeting tools. As a marketing platform, Facebook has traditionally thrived at top-of-the-funnel advertising. Unlike search, which hits people just as they express an interest in buying a certain product or service, social media marketing at its best builds relationships, and there’s compelling evidence for its value.

Facebook dominates the Web, but it’s never really cracked the direct response puzzle. That looks like it will change in 2013 with an avalanche of new measurement and targeting tools.

As a marketing platform, Facebook has traditionally thrived at top-of-the-funnel advertising. Unlike search, which hits people just as they express an interest in buying a certain product or service, social media marketing at its best builds relationships, and there’s compelling evidence for its value.

The heavy lifting for this type of advertising, however, happens on the advertisers’ own media—their brand pages. Although Facebook doesn’t charge for brand pages, it can still make money from them by selling ad units that encourage users to become fans, or that amplify the reach of content shared on the page. In a lot of ways, these are straight direct response ads, but with a call-to-action for a “like” or “share” and not a sale.

Showing marketers how many likes or conversations an ad produces is one thing, but proving ultimate sales is another, much more difficult job. Because Facebook advertising traditionally operated high in the funnel, the platform has long suffered from a “last-touch” bias. Click rates and conversions probably underestimate the actual impact of advertising on the Facebook platform, especially for the small display ads that appear to the right of the newsfeed. If people see an ad while they’re checking in on their friends, they may not click. Or they may click on it and do nothing. Later, however, they may decide to go to the website or a store and make a purchase. It’s often this last channel that gets outsized credit for this sale.

Overcoming this last-touch bias has become an imperative for Facebook. First of all, Facebook has developed “sponsored stories,” a native ad format that appears in the newsfeed and refers to how a friend interacted with a brand—becoming a friend, commenting on an article, redeeming an offer, etc. They still pivot off the relationships within Facebook’s social graph but have much higher CTRs and engagement. With these ads, Facebook has a more powerful format, where CTR becomes their ally as opposed to an obstacle.

Facebook is also trying to move down the purchase funnel by giving advertisers the ability to reach people who have already shown interest in a brand. Last year, Facebook introduced two new advertising products that do this. Custom Audience targeting lets advertisers upload their proprietary lists and match them with Facebook users to deliver sponsored stories or standard display ads to their existing customers. Early results show that these custom lists produce higher CTR and lower cost-per-lead. In February, Facebook reached an agreement with big data aggregators Epsilon, Axciom, BlueKai and Datalogix to import even richer audience segments.

Ulitmately, an even more important innovation might be Facebook Exchange, which allows marketers to retarget ads on Facebook. Through cookies and other tracking tools, Facebook can identify which websites users have visited—and even specific products they’ve browsed—and then deliver ads based on this information. Although the exchange is still in its early stages, it too has shown promising results.

Through Custom Audiences and its Exchange, Facebook is digging deeper into the buying process, but its big challenge remains attribution. It needs ways to span the gulf between advertising on the Facebook platform and the ultimate actions it produces. Custom Audiences and the Exchange have shrunk the width of this gulf but haven’t eliminated it—and its advertising team knows it.

That explains why Facebook bought Atlas Solutions from Microsoft right at the end of February. The ad server enhances Facebook’s ability to track online purchases. In announcing the service, Facebook’s Head of Monetization Product Marketing Brian Boland said, “Why we’re doing this is not to launch an ad network, and why we did do this is to improve measurement. We heard loud and clear from advertisers that they want to understand multi-touch attribution instead of just looking at the last click.” With the ad server, Facebook can deliver more types of ads to more publishers and, most importantly, it can effectively follow what users do online. It’s an incredibly powerful tool for online attribution.

It is made even more powerful when paired with Facebook Connect, a plug-in for online publishers that lets visitors log in to a website with their Facebook email and password. The service gives websites a simpler login process and gives them access to a rich layer of biographical information and connections that Facebook has amassed. Facebook, in turn, can see what people are doing all across the Web, not just in their walled community and, importantly, it can track activity across multiple devices, as long as a user has logged into Facebook from that device. If you see an ad on your desktop but convert via your phone or tablet, Facebook can track the activity.

Combining Atlas and Facebook Connect produces a powerful suite of online measurement tools. With a partnership with Datalogix, it can even track activity offline via loyalty cards and email addresses collected at checkout. With these tools, Facebook seems positioned to fully “close the loop” and overcome the last-touch bias. In classic direct marketing fashion, they also let Facebook better optimize who receives advertising. If you know who’s bought your products, you’ve found a great audience for future purchases.

Better measurement tools and advertising formats with higher click-rates transform Facebook into a legitimate direct marketing player. With Facebook experimenting with a slew of new DR formats and tools, including trigger-based Gifts, the social search tool Graph Search, redeemable Offers, and its gift card called—what else—Facebook Card, Facebook seems finally to have embraced it inner direct marketer.

Don’t Be Creepy: Using Robust User Data for Ad Targeting While Respecting Privacy

When your brand possesses or has access to data that provides deep visibility into user interests, you should use that visibility to create more relevant ads, thus increasing performance while limiting costs. But with deep visibility comes deep responsibility to respect privacy. The fastest way to hurt performance is to cross into the creepy zone. Don’t be a creeper.

Google announced that on March 1 it will be updating its privacy policy to enable the integration of user data across Google properties. As it integrates more cross-property data, including information on user interests and demographics, Google can provide advertisers with more robust and precise targeting capabilities in search and display.

For instance, Google may uncover a certain person’s interests through their interactions on Gmail and Google+. This capability may someday enable an advertiser to direct search or display ads to that person based on those interests.

Although users can opt out of the experience and adjust and delete information that Google has collected, the privacy policy update has been met with some backlash. Lawmakers in the U.S. and European Union have asked Google to explain why the changes are necessary and how privacy will be protected. A privacy advocacy group sought a court order directing the FTC to sue Google, and sites like Gizmodo have urged people to take control of their privacy by switching to various non-Google-owned properties for search, email, social, photos, docs and video.

Assuming Google goes forward with the update and activates the potential for more robust targeting options, advertisers should keep a few things in mind to increase performance while respecting privacy:

1. There’s a fine line between appropriate and creepy. Ads that are more tailored to a person’s interests are more likely to satisfy that person’s needs. However, many users would prefer that advertisers don’t know everything about them. If a user sees an ad that’s eerily related to a Google+ or Gmail conversation they’ve just had with a friend, a line may have been crossed.

2. Users will blame you. Creepy ads harm people by making them feel as if they’ve been unwillingly observed. But who’s responsible for this unwanted observation? Technically Google observed the user, but the average web surfer doesn’t think about what’s happening behind the scenes. Users ask, “How did this brand know that about me? Have they been watching me?” Creepy isn’t always a label that users attach to Google (or Facebook or any other advertising platform). It’s a label attached to brands that push the platform’s capabilities too far.

3. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Users must agree to the new privacy policy in order to sign in to Google. Google provides an easy means within its Ads Preference Manager to opt out of customized or personalized search and display ads. Thus Google’s informing its users, obtaining their consent and providing them with privacy controls. But just because a person consents or fails to adjust their ad preferences doesn’t mean that it’s open season for creepiness. People shouldn’t have to choose between using Google and avoiding the creep factor.

As a marketer, don’t think that people agreed to diminish their right to privacy in order to use Google or another service. Respect privacy as a right that can’t be diminished, no matter whether a person opts in to a privacy policy.

When your brand possesses or has access to data that provides deep visibility into user interests, you should use that visibility to create more relevant ads, thus increasing performance while limiting costs. But with deep visibility comes deep responsibility to respect privacy. The fastest way to hurt performance is to cross into the creepy zone. Don’t be a creeper.

How Evolving Mobile Behaviors are Raising the Stakes for Marketers

While none would argue that 2011 was the year of the mobile app, marketers have been hearing more noise about the mobile web as a cross-device alternative to apps that are downloaded and installed. The reality isn’t so clear-cut.

While none would argue that 2011 was the year of the mobile app, marketers have been hearing more noise about the mobile web as a cross-device alternative to apps that are downloaded and installed. The reality isn’t so clear-cut.

If anything, the division of the mobile smartphone space into iOS and Android, as well as demographic and usage patterns on these platforms, means that targeting and developing effective mobile experiences just got a whole lot harder. But this is translating into more options for mobile marketers in 2012.

When you look at actual user behavior on smartphones, you might wonder how the mobile web would effectively fit in at all. The focus for both iOS and mobile users is on app usage versus mobile web access. Apps have become so successful that they’re moving us away from the web in general. The reasons are rather straightforward:

1. Curated content apps have become primary experiences. Whether public or ad supported, curated content sources (e.g., NPR and The Wall Street Journal) have found the niche within application environments that move users away from the web and directly toward branded experiences they trust as either primary or authoritative sources of information.

2. Excerpted content typically satisfies curiosity. Even more popular apps don’t necessarily translate to more mobile web activity. This has always been the fear with content syndication in general, but combine it with a preference for a more focused and curated experience and you get a further erosion of mobile web traffic.

3. The ease of use and established reliance on app stores. The effectiveness of the app store model combined with mobile context to include desktop environments further reinforces the shift from the web search route as a first stop for function resources.

Websites are driving traffic to apps instead of presenting a mobile-optimized version of themselves. Many sites could take advantage of users visiting via mobile device to optimize their experience. Instead, you should drive them to download apps that provide a specific or focused subset of content and functionality. Focus on creating a controlled and curated environment for experiencing content.

Further complicating matters are the differences in demographics and behavior between iOS and Android users. Android users tend to be heavier app users than iOS users (by a significant percentage), according to recent Fiksu research.

According to a recent Hunch.com survey, gender balances, income levels, age ranges and other important segmenting criteria also differ significantly between audiences. Certainly there’s enough to merit taking a closer look at these considerations when designing mobile experiences for these platforms. Android adoption rates make it clear that supporting Android isn’t an option; it’s a requirement in order to reach as broad a mobile and tablet audience as possible.

Tablets are an important area where the mobile web, and the higher percentage of mobile web usage among iOS users, comes into play. Tablets offer a superior web browsing experience. In addition, differing usage patterns and behaviors mean that tablet-based experiences can be deeper and richer than mobile-optimized executions and will track close to desktop browsing.

What does all of this mean for mobile marketers and advertisers in 2012? Android’s broader audience and superior mobile ad performance will make it a focus for mobile display advertising efforts. Apple’s advertising formats are of primary interest within the context of specific applications where their inclusion and application usage merit the investment. In-app advertisement effectiveness becomes even more critical to understand and measure in this context, as those investments tend to be higher than broader mobile ad networks buys.

Social platform mobile integration efforts need to be watched closely. Emerging apps and potential ad integration capabilities are key focal points for marketers already heavily invested in social platforms or for those looking to leverage location-enabled social networks more heavily.

Tablet and touch-optimized experiences via the mobile web will be critical to support the heavier skew of browser usage among tablet owners. Give specific consideration to the ability to leverage touch-enabled HTML5 implementations and the superior browsers offered by these platforms.

2012 will certainly be the year when marketers’ attention will be firmly focused on mobile, but in reality that represents separate and to some extent distinct experiences — e.g., mobile apps, mobile websites and tablet-optimized versions of both.

There’s an Ad for That

As the expression “there’s an app for that” reaches its cultural saturation point, advertisers need to gain a clear understanding of the differences between mobile web and in-app advertising, as well as the importance of context when setting performance expectations.

As the expression “there’s an app for that” reaches its cultural saturation point, advertisers need to gain a clear understanding of the differences between mobile web and in-app advertising, as well as the importance of context when setting performance expectations.

According to eMarketer, mobile ad spending in messaging, display, video and search is expected for the first time to top $1 billion in the U.S. this year, showing the highly fractured nature of the mobile ad market. Research from several mobile ad network providers shows the difference in performance between approaches and resulting user behaviors, with expanding ads performing extremely poorly in terms of clickthroughs versus simple animated banner or video ads. Adding to the challenge of choosing the right approach and setting expectations of performance is the sheer number of ad formats and networks available.

Consider Context
Don’t just think about how and when users are exposed to ads on their phones, but also where they are and what they’re doing at the time. This establishes a complete picture of the context for the ad. Some formats don’t make sense in a broad variety of contexts, therefore a critical consideration would be to ensure that whatever network you’re using offers this type of contextual placement in addition to other targeting options.

There are real differences when considering advertising in apps vs. mobile websites. While casual web surfing on a mobile or tablet device would support the use of display ads to reach an audience, in-app behavior is distinctly different from surfing. This means that even if in-app advertising is available, you need to carefully consider its effectiveness during real-world app usage and the overall impression it would give users encountering it in a particular context.

Consider the following: Do mobile users really need or want a banner ad consuming valuable screen space in the apps they frequent most? It’s this total picture of context that should be the driving consideration for design, placement and expectations of performance. Even if ads aren’t currently available in that location, the ability to leverage background application processing or emerging geo-fencing options allows marketers to take advantage of what would normally be a missed messaging opportunity.

Let’s consider in-ad gaming for mobile, specifically ads during active gameplay. Even at a load screen, would you really expect an ad to drive a clickthrough? Would it do anything but generate an ad impression? As a gamer, I’m not likely to click if I’m stealing a few minutes during the day for a casual gaming session to relax before resuming my day. However, seeing that ad still works for branding purposes as past data suggests.

Mobile is Actually Local
The reality is that the mobile device is inherently local, which needs to factor prominently into planning a mobile campaign. While mobile users are unlikely to be surfing and clicking on banners while walking within the proximity of a nearby coffee shop, you can use technologies such as geo-fencing and background application processing on mobile devices to offer them $1 off an oh-so-satisfying latte. This example makes a strong case for carefully considering branding versus direct response versus promotional programs. It definitely reinforces the importance of context.

Where this gets even more interesting for advertisers is in the ability to exchange data and share interaction points for local, geo-targeted ad or promotional models. If a loyalty or transaction app is already installed on a consumer’s phone, and it enables proximity notifications through access to the device’s location, a retailer can let five other retailers within walking distance leverage this trusted channel to provide truly localized messaging opportunities at a premium.

They can even support a performance-based model, which could accurately determine if the consumer subsequently walked into the establishment. This is all no more complex than any self-service ad model in place today, with legal and privacy concerns addressed via proper disclosures and notifications during installation and/or activation of the app.

Display advertising on mobile obviously isn’t going away. The sooner you realize that it’s not the web as you know it today, stop trying to force current ad models into current mobile platforms, and that context is key, the sooner you’ll be able to generate not only results you can brag about, but returns clients can truly appreciate.

10 Tips to Help Grow Your Twitter Followers

This past Labor Day weekend saw Republican presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, and Twitter was buzzing with location updates, photos and 140-character sound bites. While many of the candidates boast huge Twitter followings, several have come under criticism for the authenticity of their numbers.

This past Labor Day weekend saw Republican presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, and Twitter was buzzing with location updates, photos and 140-character sound bites. While many of the candidates boast huge Twitter followings, several have come under criticism for the authenticity of their numbers.

In fact, a recent review of Newt Gingrich’s followers by PeekYou, a social search company that matches online identities through publically available information, found that only 106,055 out of 1.1 million of his followers were legitimate. Similar results were found for other candidate’s followers, but at much lower rates. Mitt Romney was found to have 26 percent real followers, Michelle Bachman had 28 percent and Tim Pawlenty had 32 percent. With that in mind, here are some best practices for keeping it real when it comes to growing your number of Twitter followers:

1. Mine the database. As always, the best place to start is with your customers. Leverage the knowledge you have about existing customers and prospects in your database and reach out to them communicating the benefits of following your brand on Twitter. Consider sending an email campaign to acquire new subscribers. Remember to tag all existing promotional campaigns, newsletters and service email communications with your social communities.

2. Listen and follow. Leverage listening and monitoring tools such as Radian6 to find out who’s already talking about your brand. Follow them to keep the dialog going and be sure to recognize and thank those that retweet or @mention you.

3. Leverage social tools. Look for and engage key influencers to help spread the word about your brand. Helpful tools include wefollow.com, which helps you to find key influencers within your industry or topics related to your brand. Use Klout and PeerIndex scores to identify who are the most influential. Also look at Twitter’s “Who to Follow” tab for some contextually relevant suggestions on an ongoing basis.

4. Hashtags, advertising tags and Twitter ads. Include hashtags pertaining to popular topics and conversation threads to ensure users interested in similar topics can easily find you. Tag TV, radio and print advertising with your social communities. Use that opportunity to highlight exclusive content prospective followers may find there.

Twitter has and will continue to develop new opportunities to help marketers call greater attention to their brand. The most recent announcement includes Twitter’s expanded advertising program, which allows brands to display ads to Twitter users who are following a particular type of company within a vertical niche. This program is similar to promoted tweets highlighted in a user’s timeline.

5. Directories. List your Twitter account in directories such as Twibes.com, TweetFind.com and Twellow.com. Consider building lists on key communication streams so potential followers with similar interests can find you easily.

6. Search tags, bios and backgrounds. Create a bio with a clear description of your brand and the kind of content you plan on posting. If you have several Twitter accounts serving different purposes, make it easy for users to find those as well by listing them or creating a custom background with the address. Add social links to paid search terms to increase visibility and visitation for your social communities. In addition, be sure to promote your social communities on your website. Include your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other communities on each platform. Better yet, use the strengths of each community to create a conversation flow — e.g., break news on Twitter and ask folks to join the conversation on Facebook.

7. Partnerships and sponsorships. Leverage and cross-promote key partnerships and sponsorships. Retweet, @mention and build a dialog with these partners; become a resource for their followers as well.

8. Unique content. Offer followers unique content they can’t find elsewhere. Grant followers “first to know” status, which will keep them tuning in and engaged. Consider building Twitterviews if you have access to individuals that will resonate well with your followers. Challenge users with trivia and reward those who actively engage with recognition. If possible, offer the chance to win prizes.

9. Engaging conversation. As we all know, the best way to grow your followers is to engage your audience with entertaining and valuable content. Ask and answer questions; encourage people to tweet their thoughts and opinions on key issues; address concerns; ask for feedback and input; and be sure to thank those that engage your brand by either direct messaging them or giving a public shout-out for their contribution. Build a communication calendar around engaging content ideas and find a unique voice. By showcasing your most engaged followers, you’ll create an army of advocates for your brand that will help accelerate your growth.

10. Analyze and focus. Leverage social campaign management tools to analyze consumers’ reactions to your content. Create content categories such as news, articles, events and promotions to track responses. Adjust the mix of these categories based on the feedback you receive from your community.

In addition, use your social media campaign management tool or free tools like friendorfollow.com to see who you may be following but isn’t following back. This will help you keep your follow-to-following ratio in check. With a little analytics and creative writing, you can optimize your voice and ultimately your results.

Twitter remains an evolving medium. While most brands have their share of followers who are inactive, there’s much they can do to grow and improve engagement. By paying careful attention to best practices and creating content that’s valued by consumers, you’ll be well on your way to creating a vibrant and engaged community of brand advocates.

Paid Advertising Opportunities on Twitter

With 140 million registered users and 350,000 new sign-ups per day, it’s past time for marketers to think about taking advantage of the paid advertising opportunities on Twitter. Twitter will continue to monetize its site by rolling out new advertising products in the near future, and there are two opportunities that are currently live: Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends. A third opportunity called Promoted Accounts is currently in testing for a select few advertisers.

With 140 million registered users and 350,000 new sign-ups per day, it’s past time for marketers to think about taking advantage of the paid advertising opportunities on Twitter. Twitter will continue to monetize its site by rolling out new advertising products in the near future, and there are two opportunities that are currently live: Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends. A third opportunity called Promoted Accounts is currently in testing for a select few advertisers.

Promoted Tweets
Promoted tweets allow advertisers to bid on keywords on search results pages. The ad unit shows up at the top of the search results and looks like a regular tweet except that it’s labeled “promoted.” Similar to paid search, the advertiser pays when a searcher engages with the ad, which Twitter calls cost per engagement (CPE).

An engagement is classified as a click on a tweet, a retweet, a favorite or an @reply to the tweet. CPE is currently reasonable because of limited competition. Promoted Tweet advertisers mostly only bid on their brand terms and have little or no competition for those terms. Thus, a small budget can go a long way.

Links within Promoted Tweets can go anywhere — like to a brand’s native website, its Facebook fan page or a YouTube video. With Twitter’s new version being rolled out through September, advertisers can embed content within a Promoted Tweet. Promoted Tweet users will also have access to a dashboard that measures engagement metrics for their tweets.

Twitter users may be searching for product names to see what the Twitter universe is saying about a product they’re considering purchasing. Promoted Tweets give advertisers the ability to show up on top of the search results for their product names. Thus, a Promoted Tweet can do things like help manage a brand’s reputation, provide more information on certain products and offer coupons.

Promoted Trends
Promoted Trends allow advertisers to show up in the “trending topics” section on the right rail of Twitter. For Twitter’s redesign, the trends show above the fold. The first 10 trends are topics that are naturally trending on Twitter that day. Promoted Trends show as the 11th trending topic, and are labeled “promoted.” Promoted Trends run for a day at a fixed cost. When a user clicks on a Promoted Trend, they’re taken to the Twitter search results for that trend, where the advertiser’s Promoted Tweet ranks on top.

If you’re thinking about running a Promoted Trend, pick a topic that seems to fit with the day’s other trends. Keep in mind, the topic could have trended naturally. This makes Promoted Trends ideal for keywords around new product releases that will be generating some amount of buzz on Twitter.

Movie studios have embraced Promoted Trends for new releases. Twitter users are likely to be buzzing about topics related to a new movie release. A Promoted Trend will help create even more buzz around the movie. Promoted Trend advertisers thus garner more engagement — e.g., clicks, retweets, favorites and @replies — and followers.

Promoted Accounts
Promoted Accounts launched this week and is currently in testing. They allow advertisers to pay to be included in the “Who to Follow” feature, which is displayed on a user’s profile page. “Who to Follow” suggests accounts that users should follow based on their interests, as determined by other accounts they follow. Promoted Accounts should be a great way to gain more followers who are interested in a particular brand or service.

The Twitter phenomenon isn’t something that advertisers can ignore. All brands should be using Twitter to engage with their fans and critics naturally. And for some brands, paid opportunities like Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends can help increase engagement, manage reputation, gain followers and sell products.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: Promoted Tweets, A Marketer’s Dream?

Well, it’s finally happened. Earlier this week, after several months of buzz on the blogosphere, Twitter launched its Promoted Tweets program, a new advertising strategy that delivers contextually relevant ads in a user’s search results. At launch, advertising partners include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks and Virgin America.

Well, it’s finally happened. Earlier this week, after several months of buzz on the blogosphere, Twitter launched its Promoted Tweets program, a new advertising strategy that delivers contextually relevant ads in a user’s search results. At launch, advertising partners include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks and Virgin America.

“Promoted Tweets are clearly labeled as ‘promoted,’ but in every other respect they will first exist as regular tweets and will be organically sent to the timelines of those who follow a brand,” according to an April 13 blog post on Twitter by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. Users can retweet, reply or bookmark the messages, which are called out at the top of some Twitter.com search results pages.

Twitter is working hard to distance Promoted Tweets from other sponsored ad programs, such as Google AdWords, in my opinion. In his blog post, Stone wrote, “since all Promoted Tweets are organic Tweets, there is not a single ‘ad’ in our Promoted Tweets platform that isn’t already an organic part of Twitter. This is distinct from both traditional search advertising and more recent social advertising.”

There is one big difference between a promoted tweet and a regular tweet, Stone said: “Promoted Tweets must meet a higher bar — they must resonate with users. That means if users don’t interact with a Promoted Tweet to allow us to know that the Promoted Tweet is resonating with them, such as replying to it, favoriting it or retweeting it, the Promoted Tweet will disappear.”

A home run?
Advertisers and users are cautiously enthusiastic about Promoted Tweets, at least according to what I’ve read in the blogosphere this week.

They’re not sure whether the program will succeed, especially since corporations can already use Twitter to advertise to a targeted audience just by having Twitter followers. Why should they buy a promoted ad when they’re already interacting with customers and prospects? Others are concerned that Twitter-based advertising is similar to unsolicited email.

Two things are clear, though: One, users and advertisers are curious about the program and will be watching it closely in the days and weeks to come. And two, this program was created to generate revenue for Twitter beyond the search deals it’s signed with major search engines.

What do you think? Will you be experimenting with Promoted Tweets? If so, let us know. We’d love to follow up and do a bigger story on this.