COMMENTARY: Twitter gets World Cup boost creating ever more opportunities to earn attention
By Steve Howell
Forget Germany, it looks like the biggest World Cup winner was Twitter. The social media company attracted 16 million new users in the last quarter, taking total tweeters world-wide to 271 million.
Announcing its results last week, chief executive Dick Costolo put the success down to ‘new product experiences built around the World Cup’.
But I suspect most of the thanks should go to Luis Suarez for biting Giorgio Chiellini and sparking one of the biggest frenzies of Twitter comment and photo-sharing ever seen.
Twitter thrives on celebrity and controversy, and whenever the two combine they make the cash-tills ring in Silicon Valley.
Shareholders were so excited by the World Cup quarter results last week, Twitter’s share price soared 35% higher.
Investors are shrewd enough to know that user growth is what grabs the attention of advertisers and were buoyed by a 129% year-on-year increase in quarterly revenue.
Twitter bosses say they are now expecting to turnover around $1.32 billion this year, of which nearly 90% comes from advertising.
That’s still modest compared to the company’s market value of $27 billion. But it does show social media is beginning to find ways of monetising its growing influence on our culture.
Meanwhile, for businesses everywhere, the opportunity is there to use Twitter to reach new audiences, locally and globally, through both social networking and paid-for promoted tweets.
Promoted tweets allow you to target Twitter users who are not already ‘following’ your feed by gender, geography, language, device, interests and keywords. The cost depends on how much success you have in getting a reaction.
But you can also reach new followers by skilfully using Twitter as a social networking tool and integrating it into your other marketing.
This is ‘free’ in the sense you don’t have to pay to be on Twitter, but you do need to invest in creating interesting content and planning how social networking is going to work with your other communication channels.
Twitter is often dismissed as being only for self-obsessed celebrities and people who want to mimic their behaviour. And some people are deterred by the difficulty of condensing a message into 140 characters and the risks arising from engaging instantly in such a public way.
But many businesses and organisations have now discarded those fears and are embracing Twitter in a big way.
Freshwater is seeing clients ranging from local restaurants and retailers to major national and international organisations using it as a primary way of reaching diverse audiences – whether they are consumers, campaign supporters, policy-makers or journalists.
We have even recently run Twitter workshops for the ambassadors and diplomats of Switzerland in Dublin, London and at the Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.
Swiss embassies are using social media to promote cultural events, disseminate consular information and publicise foreign policy initiatives.
The Vienna dimension arose because Switzerland is chair of the OSCE this year and wanted to have a Twitter feed solely for that.
And what a time to take on that role. OSCE is at the centre of diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in Ukraine and establish the truth about the shooting down of flight MH17.
OSCE monitors are in ongoing contact with all those involved in the Ukrainian crisis, and Twitter is providing a channel through which anyone can read their findings first-hand.
This may seem an unusual example, but the ability to communicate in an undiluted way with your audiences is what gives Twitter and other social media a special value, and it applies in almost every situation.
The golden rule is that social media content should earn attention. This could be because it is entertaining (wit is always a winner), has a value (information people need and is useful to them) or is something about which people feel passionately (ranging from sport to politics).
And it’s not just about the words. You can enhance tweets with video, photographs or graphics and include links to meatier content on your own website.
Using Twitter can be time consuming, but these latest results show the vast potential audience is still growing fast.
Steve Howell is chief executive of Freshwater UK, the Cardiff-headquartered media group, and chairman of WalesWorldWide.org, an online business networking site. Follow him on Twitter: @stevefreshwater