Twitter bird singing to dollar signs

Twitter Ads: 1 Suggestion You Shouldn’t Be Taking

Twitter bird yellingThe social media beast demands to be fed. Two years ago, it ate unique content and consistent engagement. Today, it’s vegetarian and subsists on cold hard greenbacks.

If you’re building a brand from scratch, Twitter ads are great. They can help you increase website clicks, engagement or followers so your future messages reach more people. If you target your ads right, you’ll build an audience that will “get” your content long-term. The ability to target is awesome; the fact you have to pay is decidedly less so.

But the world doesn’t run on unicorns and rainbows, so paid promotion is part of the gig. And while Twitter will make helpful suggestions to its advertisers from time to time, there are a few bits of advice you simply shouldn’t take.

But before we get to that, let’s start at the beginning:

How much should you be spending on Twitter ads?

The true-but-annoying answer is “it depends.” It depends on your total ad budget and whether Twitter is a place your content can really take off. Analyze the platform first, nail down your budget, and then fire up the ad machine.

lunchWe recently launched a brand here at Parthenon called Unsung Nashville. It tells stories of Nashville’s most interesting people and offers some fun local content like the Top 13 Lunches Under $10. Twitter was a natural social space for a brand like this — it has strong ties to location, culture, lifestyle and storytelling, all of which Twitter is hungry for. But as far as actually finding our audience? We were starting from scratch.

Build the right audience

So we created Twitter ads. Twitter’s ad interface is idiot-proof, so they’ll require the information they need. We recommend 3 things to start with:

1. Target by followers

We started by targeting “by interests and followers,” which allowed us to target accounts whose followers might like our stuff – The Belcourt Theatre, the Nashville Farmers Market, Porter Road Butcher, etc. As Twitter’s emails will remind you, more is more here, so add at least 10 accounts in order to maximize your reach.

Twitter's fill-in-the-blank interface is so simple my mom could almost use it. Almost.
Twitter’s fill-in-the-blank interface is so simple my mom could almost use it. Almost.


Twitter will also send you emails after a few days with suggestions on other accounts to add, which is very helpful. You can also add general interests if you want to take targeting even more broad, i.e. “foodie news and general info.” (And yes, unfortunately “foodie news” is a real Twitter category.)

2. Start with 5 days and $50

You can run Twitter ads continuously, but it’s easier on the front end to decide how much you’re willing to spend and how quickly you want to be able to gauge those results. We started with $50 and a 5-day window; it gave us a few days to get things going and re-asses, but it maxed out our contribution at $10/day, which seemed reasonable.

3. Lower your starting bid

Lest you mistake which point here is the most important, it’s in red: you don’t have to stick to Twitter’s minimum suggested bid.

Duh, you say, but seriously — how many among us have fallen prey to the feeling that we should make all the adjustments Twitter recommends? It may sounds completely stupid, but if I have to launch a paid campaign with a big honkin’ red warning on it, I’m afraid it might not perform like it should.

Don't you try to bid shame me, Twitter. You don't know my life.
Don’t you try to bid shame me, Twitter. You don’t know my life.


In our case, Twitter suggested we bid $2.50/follower. Yes, that seems high, but in order to jump start an audience out of thin air, it was worth a try.

  • So on our first try, we bid the full $2.50.
    We got 35 follows for $50, a cost-per-follow of $1.45/follow.
    That’s less than the minimum bid of $2.50 because Twitter will usually “discount” some of your follows. It’s supposedly based on some super-techy algorithm jargon, but I believe it’s simply because they want you to love them. (These are just my feelings; don’t go quoting me.)
  • On our second try, we set our bid at $1.
    We got 82 follows for $50, a cost-per-follow of $0.60/follow.

Now part of this might be because the second time around we’d been tweeting for a few months and had a small base following, but the numbers don’t lie — that’s 57% more followers for the same price. In technical terms, that’s what we call a Damn Fine Deal.

I'm no Mathlete, but the 70% percentile for ad conversions seems pretty solid.
I’m no Mathlete, but the 70% percentile for ad conversions seems pretty solid.

The takeaway

Can we promise the same results if you lower your bid? Of course not. We’re just passing along the good word in case it helps.

The bottom line is that you should play around and see what gets you the most bang for your buck. Twitter’s programming changes every day, and they will, God bless ’em, continue to send you emails suggesting you increase your starting bid to reach a larger audience. (Don’t you just love the smell of capitalism in the morning?)

We’re not saying you can’t trust internal social stat-tracking, but just remember to set your own metrics for success.

And low-ball the big boys from time to time. Saving $0.85 never felt so good.