Do Twitter Ads Work? Comparing the Ad Performance of The World's Largest Social Networks


Twitter vs. Facebook: Comparing the Ad Performance of the World’s Largest Social Networks

Twitter’s initial public offering (IPO) is approaching, and Twitter just raised its price range to $23-$25, suggesting it’s feeling optimistic about the outcome. Investors may be a little more nervous though. According to polls, just 35% of Americans think buying Twitter stock is a good idea, whereas 51% of Americans thought Facebook stock was a good idea before its IPO last May.

As for me, I’m not planning to buy any Twitter stock. I’ve always said that Facebook makes a weak showing when it comes to ad performance for direct response marketing (lead generation), especially compared to comparable offerings from Google. But what about Facebook vs. Twitter? The fact is, Facebook ads have improved a great deal since the IPO last year, but Twitter still needs a lot of work as an advertising platform.

I dug into some data to find out if Twitter ads actually work and how they measure up to Facebook. I compared the two social networks in four categories:

  • Network Reach – Which platform reaches the largest audience?
  • Ad Performance – Do Facebook and Twitter ads drive real results?
  • Mobile Ad Performance – Which social network owns the mobile space?
  • Ad Formats – Who offers the most varied and effective ad types?

What I found is that Facebook is doing OK, but not great by any means – see one Forrester analyst’s recent open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, pointing out that Facebook comes dead last on a satisfaction index of digital marketing channels. Still, in terms of key numbers like Revenue per Visitor, Facebook is beating Twitter.

Let’s look at the data in more detail.

RELATED: 45 Facebook Advertising Tips

Twitter Vs. Facebook: Network Reach

Facebook gets an A+ for network reach, with 1.15 billion active users that share 4.75 billion items daily.

Twitter has decent reach, but not nearly as large, with 232 million active users posting 500 million tweets a day.

Facebook vs Twitter network reach

According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s just not enough of an audience for some advertisers. This much smaller reach is probably why Twitter claims just 13% of social media advertising budgets compared to 57% for Facebook.

Twitter Vs. Facebook: Ad Performance

It’s difficult to make an exact apples-to-apples comparison of ad performance on Twitter versus Facebook, because Twitter doesn’t release all the same metrics. But here’s what we do know:

Twitter and Facebook Ad Performance

According to AdWeek, “engagement rates” for Twitter ads can be as high as 1-3%, much higher than Facebook’s average CTR of 0.119%. The benefit for Twitter is that its ads are in-stream, rather than pushed off to the side. However, average CPM (cost per impression) is significantly higher on Twitter, at up to $3.50 compared to an average CPM of $0.59 on Facebook, and Twitter does not release stats on ROI (109% for Facebook).

One exact comparison is revenue per visitor (RPV): $0.93 for Facebook compared to $0.44 for Twitter. Facebook’s RPV is double that of Twitter’s, but note that Twitter’s RPV is up 300% year over year, while Facebook’s RPV has only improved by 39% YoY. (Facebook’s first click revenue per visitor is also double that of Twitter: $1.63 and $0.82, respectively.) Further, share of social referred visits is down for Facebook (at 62%, down 20% YoY), while Twitter’s share of social visits is just 6.8%, but growing fast, up 258% year over year).

Some further considerations:

  • Twitter claims that Promoted Trends provide a 22% lift in brand conversion, 30% lift in positive mentions and 32% lift in retweets. These promoted trends can cost more than $200,000 a day, 33% more than they cost in 2012.
  • Facebook ad marketing performance varies greatly by vertical. For example, average CPC for alcohol brand ads is 45% higher than average. Gaming ads, on the other hand, have 30% higher CTR than average and 40% lower cost per click. (PDF)
  • An AdAge survey ranked five online advertising platforms in terms of importance by ROI. Google was the clear winner, followed by Facebook, and then Twitter.

By my estimation, Twitter still has a lot to prove, maybe even more than Facebook.

Twitter Vs. Facebook: Mobile Ad Performance

In some ways, Twitter has the advantage here – on smaller mobile screens, it’s even more important for ads to be well-designed and feel organic. Because Twitter ads show up in the timeline instead of off to the side, they’re in a better position to dominate on mobile. Facebook ads, on the other hand, are in the right rail, which doesn’t even exist on the Facebook mobile app. As such, Facebook is failing its mobile advertisers.

Note, also, that Facebook only has one native ad format in the Facebook app, the App Promotion Ad. All Twitter ads show up both on desktop and mobile.

Facebook App Ad

Here’s how the two networks are doing in terms of mobile performance metrics:

Facebook vs Twitter mobile ads

While Facebook currently leads in mobile market share, expect big growth from Twitter in this area. By 2015, Twitter is expected to net $1.33 billion in worldwide ad revenue, and more than 60% of that will be from mobile ads.

Twitter Vs. Facebook: Ad Formats

Facebook vs Twitter Ad Types

In June, Facebook cut its ad format options in half, in response to requests to simplify the system and eliminate redundancies. Facebook’s ad formats now include:

  • App ads
  • Domain ads
  • Mobile app ads
  • Offer ads
  • Page-like ads
  • Page post link ads
  • Page post photo ads
  • Page post text ads
  • Page post video ads
  • Sponsored stories

According to Robert Hof at Forbes, “rather than having to plan their campaign around which of 27 ad formats to use, advertisers instead will make choices on what they want to accomplish–such as amassing fans, getting people to install their app, or driving people to physical stores–and Facebook’s ad system will suggest the right kinds of ads to run.” My take is a little more cynical – in my view Facebook basically admitted that more than half of its ad formats didn’t work. This is generally not a great sign.

Twitter’s ad format offerings are much simpler:

  • Promoted tweets
  • Promoted accounts
  • Promoted trends

My guess is they will introduce more ad options in the next year or so. Historically Twitter is slower to release new features than, say, a Google. (Not that the recent shift to include images in timelines is probably meant to increase ad clicks.)

Everyone seems to agree that both Twitter and Facebook are lacking when it comes to tracking, measurement, and analytics.

Conclusion: No Big Winners Here

In summary: Neither Twitter or Facebook is a great advertising option for direct response (lead generation) marketing. The intent just isn’t there compared to search. These social platforms are better for big brand advertising and engaging with your fans through content marketing (soft sells vs. e-commerce). If you have the budget for those kinds of marketing activities, then you’re better off on Facebook than Twitter, but the reality is, neither is all that effective and both platforms have a ton of work to do on the paid side. I suggest they look to Google AdWords and the Google Display Network for inspiration. 

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Warren Whitlock
Nov 05, 2013

A nice link bait title and some good information. Many look for "which is best" as a global issue and enjo the charts showing averages across many campaigns, but a business need to know what is right fhere unique situatioin and objectives. Both Facebook and Twitter are viable for marketing. Match your market where they are, concentrating on gettin the medium working for you and using the tools and reports that allow you real inforamtion on your own business. Which you choose is not near as important as doing what it takes to et results

Dec 16, 2015

I have been using Facebook ads to promote my website but I am sure Facebook is ripping us off as they artificially increase the number of clicks so they could charge you more, 3 to 10 times more. I do not believe them saying nothing about third party traffic apps monitors as I used to check my own server and I saw that within two days and a half I got 120 clicks while Facebook showing and charging me for 989 clicks. This is so ridiculous given also that Facebook is a stock exchange listed company playing so low profile tricks.

Nov 06, 2013

I am not planning to buy Twitter's IPO too.I think when it comes to twitter and facebook advertising, thereare still room for improvement and i am putting my bet more on Google adwords& placing some hopes on Facebook ads.

Arbaz K
Nov 06, 2013

I have used Facebook ads for sometime and it gave me decent results, I won't say that the results were awesome but not that bad as well. But still working with Twitter ads and comparing which one worked out better for me is a hard task. But thanks for making it simpler for me and others like me with this post :)

Nick Gramatikov
Nov 06, 2013

Great Article Larry. I totally agree with your points here. Both social networks are not very good options for direct response marketing. However I still will give more weight to Facebook Ads compared to Twitter.P.S. You can look at Reddit for inspiration as well. The targeted ads in subreddits for some niches can have pretty good ROI.

Prachi Srivastava
Nov 06, 2013

This post is great, i mean right from data to content everything is clear.

Nil Khara
Nov 07, 2013

Its a great article Larry, I agree with you and I think this article helps many internet marketing experts who are new commer in this field.

Nov 25, 2013

Neither FB nor Twitter ads didn't work well for me. But, there are platforms where you can pay Twitter account holders who have a decent number of followers to promote your link / product.

Kiran Sulebhavi
Dec 13, 2013

This article is best answer to this question. Well described with numbers and infographics.

Luke Kellett
Dec 17, 2013

Very informative post, I am looking to find some data for Google+ and LinkedIn along the same sort of subject matter. I understand that average CTR is 0.025% (reportedly) but this is the only information I have found. HELP PLEASE :)

john smitsen
Jan 02, 2014

This article misses the one key point that will allow Twitter to eventually surpass facebook. Twitter does not charge businesses to reach their OWN clients, facebook does.Think about that. The ONE THING which made Facebook beat friendster, myspace, etc, was its built in viral mechanism.  They have now completely KILLED THAT, by charging people to reach their own fans. Twitter never charges you to reach your own fans so if a post has the ability to go viral, it can go SUPER viral and get you thousands of fans.  Facebook has KILLED THIS.  As a business owner, im furious.  Business with facebook fan pages from years ago have hundreds of thousands of fans they got FOR FREE.   All NEW businesses are completely SCREWED by facebook.  Want 100,000 fans?  You will have to shell out $50,000, about 50 cents to acquire a new fan via promotion.  Its a terrible model that will kill facebook. We have already moved to twitter because we will not pay facebook RANSOM money to reach our own damn fans. Google+ now has areal chance to crush Facebook, because they also dont hold your fans for ransom and dont kill the virality of your posts.  Facebook is slowlly poisoning their golden goose.   

Özgür Nevres
Sep 03, 2015

Yes! This is really a crucial point. Your math is true, 1 like is for 50 cents on facebook now and even if you spend thousands of dollars to get thousands of likes, your posts sometimes do not reach even 10% of them, pretty annoying.

Devinder Maheshwari
Feb 14, 2014

Amazing article. I didn't know this much about Twitter ads, because I haven't tried them yet. The comparison is very helful for brands who'd want to know, where they should spend their money for social media marketing?Also, the related article about 45 Facebook advertisement tips is great. :) Keep these posts coming.

Aug 03, 2014

Twiter ads is useless. Most people dont read their ads. who has a time to read ads?

Naresh Toshniwal
Oct 12, 2014

Really great work and statistics. It is helpful for Digital marketing professionals and business owners alike. Personally  Iam attached to twitter than facebook, less distraction and real-time conversation. Sharing a link and tip increases consumer engagement. Thanks for the article.

Brian Carter
Feb 23, 2015

Larry, would you mind sharing details of your experience running Facebook ad lead gen campaigns? You claim it's made a weak showing, but without any data to support that. What techiniques did you use? Did you use website conversion ads? Did you test each ad location against the other? Did you test at least 20-30 ads? We've run more than a dozen Facebook ad lead gen campaigns for clients. Typically the lead quality is good and cost per lead is much better than when running AdWords. What's more, AdWords can only help us with lower segments of the marketing & sales funnel. Facebook can reach higher into the funnel. We get in touch with potential buyers before they've been exposed to the competition.

Mar 14, 2016

Twitter ads is good for Amazon affiliate websites? ...I thought of doing twitter ads..suggestion please...

jamshad Hahsmi
Jul 09, 2016

I love to the twitter and FB , it's like to promote me my new idea and trick reached message to people by Twitter account , so thanks a lot giving me new tricks about FB and twitter

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