Advertisers need to rethink how they engage Twitter users

New research shows that marketing is least effective on people who tweet about trending topics early in the trend’s life cycle 


Consumers who are quick to promote social media trends on Twitter are less likely to respond to related adverts and marketing delivered through the same channel, new London Business School (LBS) research shows. 

Digital marketers often target people tweeting about trends as soon as they emerge, believing that those tweeters will share related advertising and branded messages with their followers. But the study ‘Advertising to Early Trend Propagators: Evidence from Twitter’, co-authored by Anja Lambrecht, Associate Professor of Marketing at LBS, suggests advertisers need to rethink their strategy. 

Dr Lambrecht and co-authors Catherine Tucker and Caroline Wiertz, from MIT Sloan School of Management and Cass Business School respectively, used data from two field tests involving a charity and fashion firm for their study. 

The companies sent promoted tweets to consumers messaging about hot topics within hours of them trending, according to Professor Tucker. They also sent targeted adverts to people posting about the same subjects after they had stopped trending. Professor Tucker said that she and her colleagues then “compared the response of both groups to the identical ads”.

“Throughout our field tests, engagement with the ads was lowest when targeting early trend propagators and higher when targeting individuals who embraced the trend on subsequent days,” Dr Lambrecht said. 

Professor Wiertz added that people posting early about trending topics may be driven by a desire to provide content that draws recognition and acclaim from their followers. 

“Twitter users who engage with trending topics may be extrinsically motivated and particularly care about status rewards,” she said. “Being on top of the latest trends is one way for them to show they’re ‘in the know’. 

“Early trend propagators engage with and propagate content that serves this purpose and therefore have little reason to engage with advertising.”