What Twitter’s plan to offer ‘a new attribution model’ in Google’s Doubleclick means for brands

Twitter advertisers using Google’s Doubleclick will now be able to measure when conversions result from views and other actions on the micro-blogging site, signalling a major step in its bid to get a fuller understanding of how its ads are served on mobile.

The company was tightlipped on whether it would track impressions or just clicks though chief executive Dick Costolo billed it as a “new attribution model” within the ad exchange. That could point to the anonymous use of Twitter profiles to track conversions, an issue Costolo teased when he told analysts yesterday evening that “Doubleclick is willing to give us Twitter-specific attribution mechanisms that are unique to our tweets from a promoted and favourite standpoint”.

While measurement is the focus of the deal, brands will also be able to buy sponsored tweets through Doubleclick Bid Manager. In doing so, Twitter hopes to show how its ads drive brand metrics and ultimately shift more ads. The micro-blogging site has seen efforts to monetise social media stall in the shift to mobile as rival Facebook’s early gamble on video forged a more premium offering around smaller screens.

“We want advertisers to have insights into the rich canvas of actions beyond website clicks on platforms like ours (eg retweets) and the role they play in determining a campaign’s ROI,” the company wrote in a blog post.

The move comes as Twitter’s first deal with Google, a search deal, will include tweets in the search engine’s results from next month. However, the Doubleclick tie-up is Twitter’s first major step toward providing a holistic measurement offering. Twitter is talking to other third-party attribution partners and Costolo said it was “excited about the opportunity” to move beyond “just Doubleclick, to give our advertisers exactly what they want from a measurement capability”.

The issue with Twitter is it’s hard for advertisers to do controlled and exposed tests that spotlight impact on brand metrics. It conducts its own internal surveys, which are limited in use and consequently stopped advertisers from investing more to the channel. Doubleclick’s introduction should go some way to satisfying that need once it launches, allowing advertisers to create their own tests through the bid manager tool.

It is a thought not lost on agencies as they search for alternatives to followers and retweets to convince brands to bet bigger on the site.

Mark Syal, joint managing director and head of media practice at Essence, said the potential to be able to finally look at the brand effect of Twitter through Doublecick was “exciting”.

“Often followers and retweets are used by brands as a proxy for something else and it’s not a very good one," he added.

”You might want brand awareness or a perception shift and you’re unable to get firm handle on either. If you can then suddenly run brand surveys and have much more control over how you do that because you can run it through Doubleclick Bid Manager, then you can create your own controlled and exposed groups. I think this is when it will open things right up."

Other industry observers hailed Twitter’s announcement a “smart” move and said it showed the platform viewed itself as one of influence and not of conversions.

Jon Williams, marketing director of OperaMediaworks, said: “Regardless of channel or placement, for every pound advertisers spend they are looking for a more robust set of results and a better understanding of where that investment is going and what’s it’s doing for them. The Doubleclick announcement shows that Twitter is recognising that accountability needs to be addressed. Today’s results highlight a diversification in the market and a need for brands and agencies to make sure they are thinking creatively around ad placement.”

For Google, the increased scope through Twitter is a noticeable win as it tries to stave off the advances of Facebook. The social network relaunched its Atlas ad server last year and is banking on the platform’s anonymous sorting of user profiles for ad measurement to give it the edge against Doubleclick and other rivals still reliant on cookies.

Paul Mead, founder and managing director at VCCP Media, said: “Increasingly we’re seeing marketers understanding that the full potential of a channel can only be judged by looking at its role in the wider mix. Doubleclick is by some way the dominant ad serving and digital marketing platform in the UK. Its integration with Google Analytics and the cross device data that Google can provide means that we will see some interesting new developments this year from Doubleclick in terms of attribution capabilities.

"For Twitter this means that its role in the mix can better understood and more accurately valued. Its choice of partner is an obvious one and gives it access the largest pool of UK advertisers and their agencies."

Havas managing partner for its international business David Goodall, welcomed the tie-up, describing the opportunity for advertisers to be involved with it a "complete no brainer".

"Instinctively as an agency, I love it - what's not to like? - more options to engage, more opportunities to understand the consumer journey, more effective mobile inventory which is sorely needed - this is a Twitter superpower. All centrally managed/collated enabling everyone to spend on insights - if activated properly with the right strategy it can be very powerful and more data means more understanding which I hope will give Twitter a better level of how to target consumers with more precision than they do currently. I'm not sure they've nailed this yet, probably due to lack of insights, but this will help them develop a better delivery system and help them manage yield."

The deal was one of the few bright spots in a quarter that saw user growth slow and ad click rates (CTRs) decline from the previous quarter. A mixed take-up of formats with lower CTRs combined with low app installs compounded the decline in the three months to March.

There was some cause for cheer in the form of the company’s recently launched Periscope live-streaming app and its nascent native offering. More than one million people signed into the app in its first 10 days and native video on the site has spiked following the launch of its 30-second video platform in January.

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Seb Joseph

Former news editor at The Drum.

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