Yes or no: Will the ability to poll Twitter users compensate for the platform’s shortcomings as a marketing tool?
The answer will be revealed in the next few days when Twitter opens its polling feature to all comers. Initially tested with a handful of users, Twitter polling allows anyone to create a query with two possible answers. The polls can be seen by anyone on Twitter, regardless of whether they follow the creator, and will remain active for 24 hours. After the polls are closed, results (in percentages) will be displayed, and notifications will be sent to those who participated.
The polls offer a small step forward for brands looking to engage with the platform’s 300 million active users. In a blog post, Todd Sherman, a Twitter product manager, positioned the polls as a significant new engagement tool.
"If you want the public’s opinion on anything — what to name your dog, who will win tonight’s game, which election issue people care most about — there’s no better place to get answers than on Twitter," he wrote. "For poll creators, it’s a new way to engage with Twitter’s massive audience and understand exactly what people think. For those participating, it’s a very easy way to make your voice heard."
Agency reaction was less enthusiastic. "I think brands are going to love it," said Greg Eckelman, senior strategy director at We Are Social. "But I don’t think polls are what consumers want from the Twitter platform."
Though brands may be tempted to field poll upon poll to gather data on their followers’ preferences, they would be better to resist, Eckelmam said. "Polls could be potentially disruptive to the flow for consumers and the type of information they get from brands," he warned. "If they feel like they’re not getting relevant information from brands, if all they're getting is polls," consumers are likely to tune those feeds out.
Jennifer Choi, a senior social marketing manager at Huge, noted that users on other platforms had already grown weary of being polled. "Polls could be interesting as a form of brand research to understand user needs on social," she said, "but I’m not sure how quickly that novelty will wear off for users." She noted that Facebook once had polls, too. "No more."
Likewise, Chad Martin, director of social and emerging media at digital shop VML, wondered what Twitter’s long-term plans were for polls. "I have no idea where twitter’s taking this past the initial stage." He said. "It’s almost like they have to aggregate eventually. Do these polls add up over time? Can there be a greater quantity of answers over time? I’d be curious to see what they do with this data."
Of course, polling is just the latest feature introduced by the platform as it seeks to play catch up to Facebook, Instagram and other networks that have done more to court advertisers and drive user engagement. Earlier this month, Twitter introduced Moments, which presents curated tweets, pictures and videos centered on a single event, like the World Series or a presidential debate, in a lively, visual format. In March it announced a tool called Curator that will allow publishers to search, filter and curate tweets into digestible stories and presentations.
Twitter is already offering advertisers the opportunity to participate in Moments. For an undisclosed price, a brand can buy a "promoted moment" — a stream of brand-picked content curated around, say, a movie opening or product launch — that would be offered to users among Twitter’s editorial streams. Creed, the latest installment of the Rocky series from MGM, will debut as the first promoted Moment later this week.
"Moments are a great thing," said Chad Martin, director of social and emerging media at digital shop VML. "A tweet comes and goes. But this is a way to be a part of a larger conversation on a grander scale."
Choi agreed that Moments represents "the obvious opportunity for brands and publishers to play in this space."
"It’s certainly a natural tie-in for Twitter, and I could see people finding a ton of value if they’re also able to customize their Moment topics by bookmarking stories they find interesting," she said. For Twitter, allowing brands to insert promoted Moments in its News or Sports sections — rather than just within the Moments stream — would help increase its value.
Though Twitter has reported strong revenue increases in recent quarters, user growth has stalled, holding steady at about 315 million monthly average users. The raft of new features are aimed at making the site more attractive to users as much as brands, analysts say, though many have expressed concern that both parties may be difficult to bring back.
For now, plenty of brands are still looking for opportunities to advertise on Twitter (rather than relegate it a CRM channel), noted agency execs, the platform needs to provide more opportunities like Moments to keep them interested.
"Since it does not look like follower growth is ever going to be as steep as it once was, Twitter will need to provide a high level of engagement at a low cost for brands to want to continue to invest," he said.