Last September, Twitter posted an acknowledgement on their blog that "Twitter Experiments" were not only a very real thing, but that they were far more common than most people imagined. In fact, they claim that it's "rare for a day to go by" when they're not releasing "at least one experiment" since that is how they improve the user experience and, though they didn't say as much, figure out ways to generate revenue. (Regarding the latter, one has to assume this considering the recent IPO.)
We took a look at some of their recent experiments to figure out not only what this means for users, but what it could also mean for marketers.
Our biggest takeaway? Almost all of the experiments have one major thing in common that could significantly change the way marketers use Twitter. Can you figure out what it is? (If not, don't worry. We give it away at the end.)
This account classifies itself as a Twitter experiment, but is set to private. The owner requests that you follow "to receive analytics via direct message." We have yet to be granted permission to follow, but TechCrunch reported that the goal of the account is to "direct message you 'achievements' that you earn with your tweets." Achievements appear to include things like the number of retweets, favorites, mentions, and even statistics about how your tweets are performing compared to your previous tweets. It can also let you know if your tweet appeared in other places on the web, like in an article.
Most of this information is available via Twitter's advertising dashboard, but receiving it via Direct Message is an interesting feature that may simplify things for marketers who are experimenting with Twitter themselves.
People who follow the EventParrot account will receive "direct messages that help [them] keep up with what's happening in the world." It's an interesting idea, especially considering most people who want to get news from Twitter already follow the news sources they trust and care about, and initial feedback is that the news takes too long to be delivered. (People want breaking news when it's breaking, not twenty minutes later.)
What's interesting about this experiment for marketers though is that this is Twitter pushing out content to its users, not Twitter providing a platform for others to push out content. Are messages from advertisers next? It seems that it has to be a possibility as Twitter continues to search for ways to generate revenue.
MagicRecs provides "instant, personalized recommendations for users and content via direct message." The goal is to keep users informed by letting them know when multiple people in their network follow the same user or favorite or retweet the same Tweet. Basically, users don't have to worry about missing out on something big; MagicRecs is there to keep them in the loop.
This experiment has already been rolled out as a feature on Twitter with some users receiving personalized recommendations via a push notification (which can be turned off). This is huge for marketers because it means they can still reach people hours after an original tweet goes out, effectively extending the shelf life of their efforts. The only problem? The original tweet needs to be so compelling that people are favoriting and retweeting it. This means marketers are going to need to think outside the box and get really creative. Which, frankly, is what we like to see them doing anyway.
Another protected account, MagicStats' account description reads, "I favorite the best tweets I see in real-time." It's hard to know exactly how the account works or what its purpose is since all of its activity is hidden, but TechCrunch was able to get a glimpse and "browse its favs" and surmises that "it's likely the account is looking for tweets that are getting rapid attention." It's possible Twitter is building this out as an alternative to Favstar, the popular online service that ranks Tweets based on how often they're favorited.
MagicStats and MagicRecs clearly have a few things in common and are possibly even linked on the backend, but what's interesting about MagicStats is that it accurately predicts which Tweets will go viral. If Twitter is willing to reveal the science behind which Tweets become popular, it could be a gold mine for marketers… and for Twitter.
Twitter has a ways to go in order to effectively capture advertising dollars from brands, but these experiments show that they're actively working on ways in which to make the site profitable for shareholders and for marketers.
What was our big takeaway? Direct messaging. Three of the four above experiments make direct messaging the hero. This is huge because it means in most cases, a push notification is being sent-meaning marketers could connect with users even when they're not actively using Twitter.
Clearly, Twitter is not going to let advertisers push out messages without the permission of users, but there are lots of other options out there: users opting-in to push notifications from the brands they love (think TV, sports, anything where real-time info is crucial), DMs that share a tweet from a brand that organically went viral, or anything really that brings users back to Twitter where the existing ads already live.
Of course, the only people who really know what these experiments might mean for marketers are the smart folks at Twitter. And we bet even they are learning things they never expected. Now we just have to wait patiently for them to fill us in on the results.