The Interview: Barry Collins, Twitter

5 Sep 20141 Share

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Barry Collins, SMB director, EMEA, Twitter

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Within a year of launching self-serve ads for small and medium-sized businesses (SMB), Twitter has been steadily beefing up its European services. We talk to Twitter’s director SMB for EMEA Barry Collins.

“Just be yourself.” That’s Collins’ ultimate advice for any brand, individual or business owner that wants to engage and build a following on social media platform Twitter.

It’s an ironic statement when you consider that for most of its history, Twitter has been trying to determine its own identity. Born out of a podcasting company in San Francisco, California, called Odeo just eight years ago as a bit of an experiment by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams, Twitter has evolved to become one of the most important born-on-the-internet companies alongside Google and Facebook.

The company’s CEO Dick Costolo enigmatically refers to it as a media company and he’s not wrong, considering most of the world’s breaking news flits across the network instantaneously in 140 characters.

To others, it’s a social network or a communications platform. To many in the business world, it’s an advertising platform.

You could argue Twitter in the past year has been solidifying this latter status post-IPO to bring in revenues, bringing services such as self-service advertising to US and European SMBs, as well as expanding its capabilities for global brands.

Citing its recent World Cup experience as a vital proving ground, Twitter’s second-quarter revenues rose 124pc to US$312m and the company reported user growth increased 24pc to 271m members. Twitter advertising revenue jumped 129pc year-over-year to US$277m. Mobile ad revenue amounted to 81pc of total ad revenue.

In Dublin, Twitter is close to hitting its target of 200 employees across 15 different EMEA functions, including HR, sales, engineering and policy-making.

For internet industry veteran Collins, Twitter is a quite recent phenomenon. He began his internet career in the 1990s with PostGem, and after a number of years with Dell became global sales director PCH International.

Prior to joining Twitter, Collins served as director of global partnerships with Skype.

Self-service

In November last year, Twitter opened its self-serve advertising platform for SMBs in the UK, Ireland and Canada. Last month, Twitter revamped its Promoted Tweets platform to enable SMBs and API partners to deploy objective-based campaigns, reports and pricing. This, it claims, will make it easier for advertisers to create and optimise successful marketing campaigns and only pay for the actions aligned with their marketing objectives.

“We have been expanding our footprint further into Europe in SMB and other channels also,” Collins said. “This time last year we didn’t have any self-service capabilities anywhere outside the US and now we’ve expanded into all the major European countries.

“On our other larger brand sales we’ve also been expanding aggressively.”

For many people at first Twitter makes no sense. You’re only allowed to tweet in 140 characters and at first it is a little like shouting into the abyss and hoping to hear some kind of echo.

Eventually, something clicks and Twitter becomes a compelling place to hang out. What you do with it, of course, is your own business. For many, it is the ultimate way to communicate, for others its an invaluable marketing tool.

“We would always recommend that small businesses become good at using Twitter before they start spending money on Twitter ads.”

Aware that some firms struggle to take advantage of the platform, an invaluable weapon in Twitter’s nest is webinars.

“We do a range of webinars and educational programmes for SMBs in Ireland and across Europe. We are aware that some people have become very good at using Twitter and we see those people logically moving to use Twitter ads to amplify what they are doing alongside their organic use of the product.”

As well as the educational impact of webinars, another key facet has been just making Twitter easier to use.

“We’ve been working hard to make the product a lot more visual. But education is vital and the key for SMBs is not only how to use it but when to use it. We get huge attendances on our webinars and there is a strong interest and desire among small businesses on Twitter to learn.

“They spend time on it and once they get to the ‘a-ha’ moment it all starts to fall into place.”

Collins said 76pc of Twitter’s users are mobile users. “Our experience is optimised for ‘mobile first’ because that’s where the majority of people are.

“SMBs are mobile-savvy because it is the one tool that they can use to run their business and use the platform on the go, as well.”

Relevance

Collins’ advice to brands endeavouring to be a success on Twitter is try to focus on relevance. “The thing we really find is you’ve got to be yourself and have a personality and people relate to that. The same is true for brands. Be engaging, be yourself and that’s what people love.”

Collins cited Just-Eat as a brand that has embraced Twitter. “They started out organically and have made good use of their Twitter ads. They really know how to turn it up around events like the World Cup, the Oscars, the Emmys, and use what’s happening in the world to enhance their brand.”

He said because advertising on Twitter is native to the platform, the response rates are higher than display advertising.

“Businesses can promote their message to followers for free but they use Twitter ads to target others outside their follower base.”

Collins explained that Twitter has been focusing heavily on making targeting options as accurate as possible to make sure promoted tweets hit the most relevant audience.

Targeting tools include specific interest, keywords and even device targeting. “We have 350 different interest categories, as well as keyword targeting. It has become powerful and very sophisticated at this stage.”

Tools to tweet

Referring to the revamp of promoted tweets to deploy objective-based campaigns, reports and pricing, Collins said the key objective has been transparency and ease of use.

“Small businesses, in particular, need a product presented to them in a way that makes sense to them. What are they trying to achieve – get more followers, get more leads? Or if you are an app developer, do you want to achieve more app installs?

“We enable firms to decide what their core objectives are for a campaign and based on that it is a two or three-step process. Another enhancement is pricing, they only pay for the objective they are trying to achieve. Previously, it was a cost per engagement model.

“Now you determine how much you are willing to pay and everything happens in real-time so you can turn it on and off as you wish. We have some SMBs who spend just a few euros a day and others who spend considerably more, but we wanted to build that kind of flexibility into it.”

There is a pragmatic reason for being flexible with SMBs, in particular. “Twitter started off as a great place for big brands to raise awareness and the big brands have always been present on Twitter.

“But as we move to support SMBs, direct responses are critical. SMBs have a smaller marketing budget and they need to make sure they are getting value for it.”

A key objective for Twitter is to provide SMBs with easy-to-understand analytics so they can quickly ascertain how a campaign is doing. “In the SMB space, people want information but don’t have too much time to digest it, they want to know what’s going on without knowing too much.”

But it’s a balancing act. “At the other end of the spectrum, we have Fortune 500 companies spending lots of money and their entire marketing departments require incredible levels of detail.

“So there’s always a fine line – we give the big companies the data they need and at the same time conceal the complexity from SMBs and where we can give them more data if they want.”

Collins added that while Twitter’s brand advertising group is now active in 35 countries in Europe, the self-service SMB business is scratching the surface insofar it is active in six countries in Europe.

“We keep adding new features for SMBs and we have a growing SMB team here in Dublin. A combination of webinars which are scalable and you can run from anywhere and a focus on easier user experiences are key.”

Twitter is a Silicon Republic Featured Employer, comprised of top tech companies that are hiring now

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com