Twitter's Geo-Targeted Trojan Horse
Advertising and marketing industry experts have begun scratching their heads, trying to figure out what's in it for them after Twitter reported that it would let app developers pull geo-location information through an application programming interface (API).
Some believe the move -- which enables users to share their location with every tweet -- could bring Twitter a little revenue, but a lot of controversy and security issues.
Local SEO Guide Andrew Shotland suggests in a blog post that Twitter might become the "Trojan horse (or bird) of local search." He writes that this could lead to all sorts of funky services, such as a site that tracks the locations of Twitter spammers for people to drop nukes on ... if they are dumb enough to opt in.
Conrad Sheehan, founder and CEO at mPayy, which supports mobile payments, does not consider Twitter a marketing tool -- at least "not to any extent that we've observed," but does call it "a technology ahead of consumer behavior."
The only clear path to conversion through longitude and latitude coordinates that Sheehan sees could occur through companies such as mPayy. For example, the company could process mobile ecommerce transactions for Wrigley Field, which might want to tweet a message to consumers within a two-mile radius about extra tickets just before a Chicago Cubs game.
Targeting consumers within a specific radius would cut advertising costs and lead to higher return on investments (ROI). Sheehan doesn't believe people who take exception to this type of predatory marketing would have an issue if the service remains opt-in.
But privacy issues cut across all types of online media, according to Mike Blumenthal, partner at Blumenthal.com, Olean, N.Y. "At some level even benign privacy issues are worse than explicit ones," he says. "I see this Twitter service falling into that category. Ultimately, I see us forgoing all of our privacy. Google proved it the other day by giving up the name of the blogger that called the woman a 'skank.'"
Blumenthal, which specializes in SEO services related to Google Maps, says it's not clear how Twitter will handle latitude and longitude, and that the technology typically works better in cities like Los Angeles and New York, compared with rural areas. It also depends on the ISP.
An interface that integrates intelligent location-based features, such as the map, has been a big part of what has made Apple's iPhone powerful. The same could also ring true for Twitter, according to Paul Verna, senior analyst at eMarketer, who sees a "significant upside" both for marketers and Twitterers.
"It's easy to envision retailers, event marketers, sports teams, concert promoters and other marketers making use of location-specific features," Verna says. "On the consumer side, those who opt in can narrow their focus to target regionally relevant groups. This could be a benefit in many types of scenarios, from everyday socializing to emergency situations."
It could, however, overwhelm consumers and invade their privacy with aggressive geo-targeted marketing, especially if they have an option to turn on or off the opt-in feature, says Dave Gwozdz, CEO at Mojiva, a mobile advertising platform.
The ramifications or opportunities between linking twitter and geo-location are many, and will surface over time. Location-based services are incredibly interesting, but the problem is, how do you find enough users in that two-mile radius to make it worth the effort? Gwozdz says. If Twitter decides to arrange its business model to aggregate tweet themes with location, then it could, in theory, send targeted ad messages to those whose tweets and geo-location fit the target to advertisers, he says.
Industry executives agree that Twitter's open feeds that let GPS-enabled devises access information are interesting, but not many GPS-enabled devices exist today. A snapshot from analyst firm iSuppli of global GPS-enabled navigation device shipments for 2008 and 2009 reveals and forecasts 22.2 million units and 31.7 million units for mobile phone navigation devices, and 19.3 million units and 25.5 million units for smartphone navigation devices, respectively.
For marketers, it boils down to finding the correct integration between marketing and technology. If someone demonstrates that sending Twitter messages improved click-through rates and sales, the company could charge for it, and you would see budgets move from banner ads to targeted Twitter feeds. Citing June stats from a Harvard Business school professor, Sheehan says, "that's not likely -- at least not now, because 10% of Twitter users account for more than 90% of tweets."