What Twitter’s Ad API Really Means for Social Advertising

New partners such as Salesforce and Adobe share tactics, spin theories

Advertising on Twitter just got easier. As previously reported by Adweek and TechCrunch, the social platform has rolled out an ad API that will let social marketing developers buy Twitter ads within the dashboards marketers already use to manage their Twitter and Facebook accounts and campaigns.

Twitter has been testing the API since last month with its launch partners, which include Salesforce, Adobe, TBG Digital, HootSuite and Shift, the company said in a blog post announcing the news.

The biggest implication of the ad API is that advertisers will be able to run more campaigns on Twitter in a quicker, more automated fashion. Previously, either advertisers or the social ad firms they hired had to manually create and execute a Promoted Tweet campaign one at a time. The API would let them create conceivably dozens of campaigns simultaneously. 

That could lead to more ads in users’ Twitter streams, though Twitter’s product manager for revenue April Underwood said that won’t be the case. “The ads API is not focused on bringing more ads to users. The genesis of why we’re building it is focused on simplifying the ads-buying experience for marketers,” Underwood said, emphasizing that it will have “no bearing on the volume of ads users will see.” Translation: If Twitter sees an ad isn’t performing, it will pull it just as has historically been the case.

Instead, Twitter seems to be banking on API partners’ ability to let advertisers create more targeted campaigns. 

The API also enhances advertisers’ targeting capabilities. Twitter made strides last year by adding interest-level targeting, but API partners would be able to layer in their own analytics as well as advertisers’ customer data to compile new audience profiles. Advertisers can also take advantage of the real-time reporting data flowing through the partners’ dashboards in order to shift their budgets, Underwood said.

“Because we have a robust listening solution and engagement solution, we can listen to what people are saying [on Twitter about a brand] and engage with them and take any of their tweets and promote them,” said Michael Lazerow, chief marketing officer of Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

The API could further solidify Twitter’s position as the second-screen ad platform of choice. Currently, if advertisers want to take advantage of a topic that’s trending on Twitter, they have to check Twitter just like any other user to see what’s trending, and then add that hashtag or keyword to their Promoted Tweet campaign. But TBG Digital CEO Simon Mansell said API partners could add a feed next to the ad creation workflow to pull in real-time trending topics that can immediately be appended to the ad.

Another option would be for an advertiser to specify some evergreen keywords to run ads against if they ever start trending. These trend-targeted campaigns would only appear on Twitter search pages for those topics, but in the case of Super Bowl #blackout, that could be just fine. TBG Digital has five clients live or nearly live using the Twitter ad API, Mansell said. One of those clients saw a 61 percent reduction in the cost per engagement since using the API, while another spent $40,000 during the Super Bowl as a “stress test” for the tool.

Adobe also shared some results of its first Twitter campaigns using the new ad API. Adobe Marketing Cloud saw its follower base swell by 63 percent while reducing the cost of each follower by nearly 60 percent to roughly $2.

Shift tested the API with its client Radio Shack and saw a 40 percent increase in engagement rates, said CEO James Borow. He didn’t want to give away too much of the secret sauce, but attributed the performance boost to Twitter's new ability to handle more targeting at scale. “We were able to go ahead and try out a large quantity of different targeting groups and reach different people interested in different things on Twitter,” he said.

That type of A/B testing should become even more popular as more advertisers use the API, but could really take off if they take advantage of the Promoted-Only Tweets, which Twitter introduced last summer. That tool allows advertisers to run a Promoted Tweet without first publishing it to their followers. If an advertiser uses the Promoted-Only product, “we know for a fact that the conversion that takes place resulted from paid media as opposed to organic and can start to really understand how dollars affect sales,” Borow said.

Twitter chose the API’s launch partners by evaluating them based on four criteria, said the API’s business development manager Doug Williams. Twitter asked advertisers what social ad tools they were already using, then examined whether those products would be a good fit for the API and whether clients using those tools felt the partners were able to move quickly, he said, adding that the company also wanted to ensure a diverse set of launch partners. Starting today, prospective partners can apply for API access, but Williams suggested a measured expansion to match Twitter’s modus operandi.

Similarly to Facebook’s ad API partnership approach, which certifies firms as Facebook Preferred Marketing Developers, Twitter will be debuting a Certified Ads Products program in the second quarter as part of the Certified Products Program it introduced last year, Williams said.

The ad API could significantly boost Twitter’s revenues as it reportedly nears an IPO. The year Facebook began testing an ad API with a few partners, its ad revenue grew by 145 percent. When it officially rolled out the API next year, it again more than doubled ad revenue. EMarketer estimates that about 60 percent of Facebook’s 2011 and 2012 ad revenues are a result of its ad API.

Twitter could also benefit from an overall push toward making social advertising easier. Advertisers have had a few years to acquaint themselves with Facebook’s tool, and now LinkedIn and Twitter have rolled out their own versions within a couple months of each other. As more social marketing software firms roll up all three tools into their platforms, marketers should find it easier to allocate budget dollars to each and compare how they perform.“One thing that will be valuable is to see performance data across channels all in one spot,” said Underwood. She added, “The engagement rates we see on Twitter ads indicate that users like them. … We’re comfortable having our data line up with other channels.”

The onus, then, is on the API partners to fairly and accurately let marketers compare their social campaigns across channels. “They aren’t as apples to apples as you would think,” Lazerow cautioned. Facebook made matters a bit easier last month when it updated its policy for PMDs to only require firms to separate Facebook reporting from other channels when using last-click attribution, but Salesforce and the other partners will still need to determine how to compare the likes an advertiser’s Facebook campaign receives versus the retweets of its Twitter campaign.

But Twitter-specific ad performance is low-hanging fruit. Pulling Twitter campaigns and reporting into a dashboard can better reveal how Twitter performs outside of the social network. For example, a dashboard that connects with the Twitter API and the Google Analytics API could correllate an advertiser’s Twitter ad spend over the last month with the flow of traffic to the advertiser’s site, Mansell said. “Before you could do that manually, but the API enables that measurement to be more effective and simpler,” he said.

Foursquare, Pinterest and Google+ remain the major social platforms without an ad API, though the latter two also famously lack any ads altogether.