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Twitter's Enduring Struggle: ROI

On the eve of Twitter's eighth birthday, businesses remain uncertain about the social network's true value, report finds.

Twitter celebrates its birthday Friday, marking eight years since founder Jack Dorsey published the microblog's first-ever tweet: "just setting up my twttr." Since then, more than 240 million users have joined and sent more than 300 billion total tweets. But while users have found unrivaled value in the service, businesses still aren't sold, according to a new report.

The three top challenges marketers still face are measuring results and ROI (45%), building an audience (42%), and generating engagement (27%), according to a recent survey by Social Media Marketing University, which polled 1,112 professionals.

John Souza, founder of Social Media Marketing University, said that while nearly half of businesses struggle to measure their success and ROI, they feel their presence on the social network is mandatory. "Social media has become a significant play in the marketing world, so much so that brands are almost forced to leverage it, even if they are unsure of its value," he said.

Ninety-six percent of respondents reported challenges in using the platform to achieve specific goals, according to the report. Most said they use Twitter to increase brand awareness (79%), drive traffic to their websites (58%), and engage existing customers (55%). While website traffic is measurable, tracking engagement and brand awareness are more difficult.

As a result, marketers should expect more pressure from executives to track these variables, Souza said. "The challenge for marketers will be to solidify best-practices to measure ROI on all social media platforms as they face increased pressure from the C-suite."

Twitter does offer paid features that include more in-depth analytics, such as targeted advertising, promoted tweets, and other Twitter ads. One challenge the company faces, however, is encouraging businesses to use them.

According to the survey, 17% of brands said they were not aware of Twitter's paid services, while 34% said they were not interested in using them. In the upcoming months and years, this disconnect will be imperative for Twitter to rectify. "As Twitter banks on the success of its paid services, it will be critical for the platform to provide resources to support and help brands navigate [C-suite pressure]," said Souza.

While businesses continue to struggle with how best to track and measure their investments in the platform, the survey found that their use of it is multifaceted. Brands use Twitter to research their target audiences (41%), create engagement during events (62%), build relationships with influencers (62%), monitor mentions of their brands (58%), offer discounts and promotions (28%), provide customer service (31%), and even raise funds (14%).

"What we found overall is that there are a number of ways brands are incorporating Twitter into their overall marketing plans," Souza said. "The challenge is that if marketers aren't able to demonstrate in black-and-white how their efforts are paying off, it will be difficult to make the case that Twitter's paid or unpaid services are worth the investment."

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Originally published on March 20, 2014 by Kristin Burnham on InformationWeek. 

Tags:
marketing insights, Twitter, brand awareness, marketing research, social media, social media, Tech Marketing Smarts Blog