Ian Burrell: Twitter chirrups all the way to the bank as its advertising takes off

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Except for the nameplate on the meeting room door that reads "@barnowl" there is little to indicate that Bruce Daisley is sitting in one of the hubs of a global media enterprise that is expected to generate revenues north of £160m this year.

The fourth-floor London headquarters of Twitter, in the media district sometimes called Fitzrovia, is less prestigious than that of other internet giants such as Microsoft and Google, with their breakfast bars and games rooms and lounges strewn with deckchairs and beanbags. Yes, there are the fruit bowls and supplies of mineral water – prerequisites of any new media workplace – but Daisley acknowledges that "we are a pretty small team here".

That's about to change, though, as Twitter spreads its wings in response to the growing success of its advertising model, which began two years ago in the United States and arrived in Britain last September.

Daisley, an affable Brummie with pride in his council estate roots, arrived at the start of the year from Google, where he was responsible for delivering advertising on YouTube. He has been described as the top sales director in British digital media and he wants to let the world know that Twitter is open for business.

"The biggest challenge we have got at the moment as a business is getting the message out to as many people as possible," he says. "So we are recruiting. We are trying to build the team here and we are just trying to get the message of how well this is going out to as wide an audience as possible." Twitter UK will be hiring more sales staff, more engineers and more marketing people. In reaching out to the business community, they are pushing at an open door. Twitter has found a natural home in Britain, where take-up of smart phones and other internet-connected mobile devices is so high. Dual screening – watching television, while discussing the programmes on social media at the same time – has become a national habit. Brand managers want to be part of that conversation.

Daisley notes that engagement scores at Twitter (the frequency with which users respond to commercial messages) are at 3 to 5 per cent, an extraordinarily high figure. "It's not uncommon for us to have double-digit engagement for campaigns. In my my previous job I had never seen double-digit engagement." Twitter users can engage by "retweeting" messages to their followers, by endorsing the tweet as a "favourite" or by simply clicking on the tweeted link. Daisley says there is high value to a client in being placed amid the tweets of a user's most trusted sources and treasured subjects. "It's the power of sitting adjacent to people's passions and interests."

The options for business range from the daily Promoted Trend, which highlights the subject as a hot topic of the day, to a Promoted Tweet, which ensures that the message appears in the timeline of users whose Twitter activity has suggested they might be amenable to it. A Promoted Account means the brand is advertised to those users as one they might wish to follow. Promotions are marked with an orange arrow. Daisley says that Twitter monitors each ad closely to see if it's working. "We can tell pretty quickly if no one is clicking on an ad," he says. "We've already got a strong track record of knowing what success looks like." Case studies are used to advise clients on what works. Cadbury's "Retweet for Sweets" campaign for its chocolate bar Wispa Gold enjoyed a 25 per cent engagement rate. The British Heart Foundation used Promoted Tweets to drive 1.7m views of its life-saving CPR video featuring Vinnie Jones. Celebrity brand ambassadors have played a role in helping commercial messages on the platform. Comedian Jimmy Carr (who has nearly two million followers) was hired to endorse a recent Starbucks campaign. And the Advertising Standards Authority recently ruled that Snickers had not breached rules in using Rio Ferdinand (nearly 2.5 million followers) to tweet pictures of himself with the product. Daisley also praises Nike for its recent #makeitcount campaign, featuring Paula Radcliffe.

As he sits in @barnowl (other rooms are called @robin and @osprey), he knows that if Twitter overdoes the advertising, users may see the platform less as a chirruping friend and more as a Hitchcockian nightmare. "Defending the users' voice is really important," he says. Twitter is six years old and, until six months ago, British users had been used to to interacting in an environment free of paid-for advertising.

But so far there have been no British "Twitter storms" over inappropriate advertising. That's why Daisley believes the long-asked question as to how this internet phenomenon makes its money has now been answered. "Twitter's business model is advertising," he says. "You struggle to see evidence of why anyone would think otherwise now."