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In March 2015, Twitter announced its plans to open an office in Dubai. The plan saw the light of day in late August, marking the Middle East’s first Twitter office. Explaining why the company chose to open its regional office this year, Benjamin Ampen, head of sales at Twitter MENA, says that Twitter has been around for only nine years, “so it’s still early days for us.” In fact, global expansion began just three years ago when Ampen started setting up offices across Europe. Considering that 77 percent of Twitter’s users are based outside the US, it’s about time Twitter set up in the region. At the moment, there are no plans to open any offices in other Middle Eastern countries; however, the Dubai office will serve as a regional hub.

First steps

Connect Ads has been representing Twitter since 2012 in the MENA region. What does the opening of Twitter’s office mean for Connect Ads? Ampen says that Twitter will continue to work with Connect Ads and that it’s an extension of the Twitter team. He clears any ambiguity as to who clients or agencies should approach for advertising on the platform by saying: “I suspect [that] most of the international brands that we already have global agreements with will be taken care of by the Dubai office and Connect Ads will take care of the local and regional clients.”

Small business, big reach

Recently, the company had announced updates on its advertising platforms for small businesses in the region. The aim was to make sure that the self-service adver- tising platform is simple enough for “any kind of business that is willing to communicate with their potential customers through Twitter,” says Ampen. The new platform is a simplified version of using Twitter’s promoted products. The simpli- fication is basically in the process of setting up a campaign with fewer targeting options. “Maybe a big brand like Emirates or Etisalat will have a certain sophistication level for targeting that a corner shop or restaurant won’t have, so we want to make sure that those advertisers can do that in just a couple of clicks,” he adds.

Big brother

Other tech giants have in-house teams – Facebook has The Creative Shop, while Google has The Zoo – working as big brothers to agencies and their clients. Similarly, Twitter will have its brand strategy team that is “in a way, our internal creative team,” says Ampen. In fact, providing this kind of personal consultancy was one of the reasons behind the opening of the Dubai office. Currently, the internal team is working with Etisalat to create a National Day campaign for the UAE, which is much bigger than Etisalat’s “#IAmEmirati” campaign last year. Additionally, Connect Ads will also be providing the same kind of consultancy to its brands – usually, medium-sized businesses.

The first screen

When asked about what Twitter does exclusively for mobile, Ampen seems a little taken aback, because “Twitter is mobile and that’s how we develop our products. If you ask what do we do for mobile, [the answer is] we do mobile,” he says. In Q2 2015, more than 80 per- cent of Twitter’s revenue came from mobile and more than 80 percent of users accessed Twitter from their mobile phone. That’s why, when the company develops a product, it is first developed for mobile and then for the desktop. Twitter wants to make sure that it remains platform agnostic for advertisers, so that all its ad products are available across desktop and mobile. However, advertisers can choose to target only mobile users or a certain mobile carrier if they wish.

Twitter’s acquisition of MoPub last year has only accelerated its mobile reach and ad revenue. Although 360 million users are on the platform, MoPub’s ad exchange provides access to more than 700 million people. Moreover, brands can now advertise on Twitter as well as outside of it, which means better integration within mobile apps. For example, if an advertiser chooses to use MoPub’s inventory and advertise outside Twitter as well, the same promoted tweet – including the video or image, if any – will appear within a mobile app and can redirect the user back to Twitter or to an external page. “At the moment, this is in its early days and we don’t have public case studies, but, on a global level, it works very well in terms of reach,” says Ampen. On an average, the reach of campaigns through MoPub has been twice as much as it would have been otherwise. Although there are no regional case studies yet, a few brands have already lined up.

Fear of missing out

It seems that a brand might suffer from a fear of their audiences missing out on their content, considering Twitter’s real-time nature. That’s probably why targeting is even more important on Twitter than any other platform – and also, more difficult. Unlike Facebook, users don’t share their real name, gender, age and other information on Twitter, making it harder for advertisers to identify their audience. Or so it may seem. Ampen advises following a few basics when running a campaign, starting with targeting followers. “They’re your potential brand ambassadors, so when they [followers] connect to Twitter, they see your [brand’s] tweet right on top,” says Ampen. Secondly, he cautions brands against trying to put a lot of resources into their planning, simply because they’re not sure of what might happen. “Twitter is about connecting people to what’s happening right now, but the ‘now’ is not always something unexpected,” he says. For instance, for a brand like Head & Shoulders, the “now” is not an unexpected moment; it’s the everyday moments in the morning and evening, when its target audience would use shampoo. “On Twitter, you don’t target audiences, you target moments,” adds Ampen. This doesn’t mean that brands have to be present in the moment. Instead, they need to identify the instances most relevant to the moment and then push their message using varied levels of targeting, such as keyword or interest-based targeting.

When it comes down to targeting, Twitter generates an interest graph for every user, which updates in real time. There are more than 100 interests that can be targeted. Since Twitter does not ask users to select a gender when signing up, more than 90 percent of the time, gender is identified based on a user’s interests. The interest graph takes into account any Twitter activity, including follows, unfollows, favorites, and contents of tweets. Since the graph updates in real time, it means that if a user has decided to unfollow a certain account, this will be reflected in the graph immediately and automatically tailor the targeting. “Twitter is a platform of interest and conversation and we truly believe that interest defines people the best. [With other platforms,] sometimes there’s a risk of you [users] no updating the information, but with the interest graph, it’s real time,” says Ampen.

False fallacy 

Based on his experience in the region so far, Ampen tells us the most common misconceptions about advertising on Twitter.

  • Real time. The main misconception is about the real-time aspect, which we already discussed. Real time doesn’t mean having to tweet all the time without any preparation. Ramadan, shopping festival…these are moments you can plan for.
  • Underestimating your audience. If someone’s not interested in tickets for a football match, don’t target them. On Twitter, the ads that work really well are [made up of content] that would work well, organically too. Twitter ads just amplify the content. So, brands should understand their objectives, then choose the right content and put it in front of the right people at the right time.
  • Understanding Twitter as an advertising channel. It really depends on the sophistication level of the advertisers. However, we certainly need to do a lot in terms of education. There are some brands out there that don’t realize the potential of what we could do. It’s about understanding that Twitter is not a single platform. Twitter is here to connect the dots between the different marketing initiatives and not act in isolation as a single communications channel.

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