Are Twitter Ads Useless?

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Twitter rocked markets this week with a spectacular initial showing. But how do Twitter ads measure up against Facebook ads? Is it worth spending your ad dollars on Twitter?

When it comes to direct response marketing, AKA lead generation and/or Ecommerce, Google really takes the cake in terms of ad performance. However, if you’re set on creating a social media ad campaign, you’ll want to see how Twitter ads and Facebook ads compare.

In my article today, we’ll compare these two social giants across several pertinent criteria, including:

  • Network Reach – Who has the largest audience?
  • Ad Performance – Do Facebook and Twitter ads really drive results?
  • Mobile Ad Performance – Who is dominating in the mobile space?
  • Ad Formats – Which platform provides the most varied and effective ad types?

Let’s take a look!

Social Network Reach

Facebook gets a gold star for network reach, earning an A+ with its colossal 1.15 billion active users, sharing 4.75 billion items daily. Twitter’s reach isn’t too shabby, with 232 million active users tweeting 500 million times a day, but those numbers just can’t compare with Facebook’s.

Facebook vs. Twitter - Which is the Biggest In terms of size and engagement?

The Wall Street Journal theorizes that Twitter’s audience simply isn’t impressive enough to get advertisers excited, which might explain why Twitter owns only 13% of social media advertising budgets compared to Facebook’s 57%.

Ad Performance

Directly comparing Twitter vs. Facebook on ad performance is difficult since the two social networks use different metrics to measure performance (and Twitter keeps its cards close to the chest). However, we can dissect some data on how they stack up against one other.

Facebook vs. Twitter Which has better Ad Performance?

According to AdWeek, the “engagement rates” for Twitter ads can get as high as 1-3%, which is significantly higher than Facebook’s 0.119% CTR. Twitter’s advantage here is likely the result of their ad design – Twitter ads are in-stream, integrating ads with regular user content, rather than pushing ads off to the side as Facebook does. While this means that Twitter ads are seen more, Twitter’s average CPM (cost per impression) of $3.50 is much higher than Facebook’s $0.59.

Twitter Vs. Facebook: Mobile Ad Performance

Twitter’s design provides a big advantage when it comes to mobile ad performance. Twitter ads perform well on small screens, with ads seamlessly integrated into a user’s timeline to feel natural and organic. Facebook ads usually appear in the right rail, which isn’t even present in the Facebook mobile app.

Facebook does have one native ad format in the Facebook mobile app – the App Promotion Ad. However, for many businesses looking to advertise on mobile devices with Facebook, the App Promotion Ad isn’t applicable or desirable at all. In comparison, Twitter enables all of its ads to appear on desktop and mobile devices. Major win.

Here’s how Twitter and Facebook compare in terms of mobile performance metrics:

facebook vs. twitter on mobile ads - who wins?

Facebook leads with mobile ad market share, but we can predict major growth from Twitter – Twitter is expected to net $1.33 billion in worldwide ad revenue by 2015, and it’s expected that more than 60% of that revenue will come from mobile ads. You’ve heard it everywhere – mobile is the future, so Twitter is smart to be growing faster than Facebook in this category.

Ad Formats

Back in June, Facebook cut its ad format options in half, answering advertiser requests to simplify Facebook’s ad system. Robert Hof at Forbes notes that the new ad options make it easier for advertisers to accomplish specific goals, like gaining more fans and getting more app installs. However, if Facebook started off with 27 ad formats and is now down to 10, does that mean over half their initial ad formats were useless? That doesn’t do much to inspire the troops.

Twitter’s ad format offerings are much more simple by comparison:

  • Promoted tweets
  • Promoted accounts
  • Promoted trends

We will likely see these ad options grow throughout the next year or so as Twitter makes more of an effort to boost its advertising strength.

So Which Should You Get Excited About? How About Neither?

When it comes to lead generation, Facebook beats Twitter, but both struggle. There just isn’t a ton of intent, especially compared to search engine marketing. Social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are a powerful option for engaging with fans and soft selling with content marketing, but the average small business isn’t likely to see much success when it comes to direct response marketing.

Larry Kim

Larry Kim

CTO and Founder at WordStream
Larry Kim founded WordStream in 2007. Today he serves as company CTO and is a contributor to both the product team and marketing teams. Larry practices photography in his spare time.
Larry Kim
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  • Seppo

    You forgot to mention that Twitter charges you for just about everything. You are charged for a click even when someone expands the conversation or tweet. So you end up paying for clicks even when the user never lands into your website. That was the deal killer for me. Facebook ads are far from perfect but at least you only pay for real clicks.

    • Phillip Mullennax

      Wow that is good information to have about Twitter charging for everything. Thanks!

    • Larry Kim

      yes – you get charged for favorites, clicks, retweets, replies etc. Yet they’re clearly not worth the same to an advertiser.

    • Scott Wallace

      Agreed. Our research has been pretty conclusive: Facebook ads represent a much better ROI by a large order of magnitude — Twitter isn’t even close for some of the reasons you’ve mentioned.

      Anybody been accepted into Pinterest beta program? We are looking forward to trying their social advertising!

  • trista de leon

    Ugh.. $25 paid in ads in 5min on twitter. google analytics real time page up and watching and not 1 person landed on my website. seriously ???????

    • Larry Kim

      people probably just expanded your post or hit the favorite button…

    • Seppo

      Yep, I found the same thing. I ran a $70 test campaign on Twitter and got very few (don’t remember how many now) visitors to my website. I asked Twitter about it and they told me they charge for just about any interaction with the ad. I, half-jokingly, concluded that they even charge you when a visitor mouser overs your ad. That’s just a deal killer for most small advertisers.

  • trista de leon

    I have much better results just using google adwords., I don’t have millions to spend in hopes that someone actually makes it to my website.

  • Warren Whitlock

    Nice info and a unqualified, biased conclusion.

    I was hoping to see some insite on a new trend, not a fear of anything new.

    What will you do when SEO is really dead?

    • trista de leon

      I don’t think I fear the new. I gave it a shot and I’d rather not get charged by someone looking at my ad and not actually getting to my site. There’s a big difference there. I don’t mind paying for ads if the person actually gets to my website, but if I’m just getting charged for them looking at my ad, what’s the point?

      • Warren Whitlock

        nothing wrong with waiting till someone else can show you it works. That’s where a lot of clients are with PPC or SEO.

        I’ve got to wonder how someone can condemn something they haven’t tried though.

        You don’t want to waste your money. I don’t want to waste time, which I believe is far more valuable.

    • trista de leon

      I did try it, that’s why I’m commenting – I didn’t like the fact that within 5min – $25 was gone and not one click to my site. With facebook ads or google adwords, people actually made it to my site.

      • Warren Whitlock

        one test?

        and that gave you the conclusion that you can’t get traffic from Twitter?

        Assuming you aren’t prepared to condemn the entire program as a fraud, perhaps you would be willing to consider that there was an error in your one time trial. Even PPC veterans make mistakes.

        My first 10 trials were on a $100 coupon at signup. Each one of them had traffic.

        My personal results don’t support the widespread stories I’ve heard of higher effective value than Facebook, but I can confirm that it’s not a fraud. ūüôā