Sharknado Eats Twitter -- But So Far, Not the Other Way Around

Apparently -- unlike sharks-gone-terrestrial -- it’s not time to kill off Twitter, just yet.

The social network this week saw its stock jump 30% after reporting its second quarter earnings, which showed that the platform increased revenue by 124%, to $312 million, and monthly active users by 24%, to 271 million. Further -- and perhaps most importantly -- CEO Dick Costolo came up with a nifty new way to account for Twitter’s popularity. It turns out  that if you’ve ever seen a tweet, you’re part of Twitter’s extended reach. (Using that methodology, I think my mom is on Facebook.)

And all of that good news came even before the Sharknado, which, in its second year, is quickly becoming the perfect storm of tweets. Even about 18 hours after the last shark left Citi Field, it is still the top trending topic, garnering 581,000 tweets seen by 5.5 million people, per Nielsen. (I will save for another column thoughts on #sharknado still trending well ahead of #MH17 and #ebola.)

Now if you could just combine Costolo’s expanded definition of the Twitterverse with live shark attacks events, you’d have something really, monetarily powerful. That’s what the company says it is moving toward, but, as #Sharknado2 proves, Twitter has a lot of work to do if it’s to put money where those sharp, jagged teeth are.

First, the positive news -- and, yes, dear reader, I did watch most of the movie -- the Sharknado phenomenon proves Costolo’s premise that Twitter’s audience is far larger than its MAUs. Nielsen says that Sharknado tweets generated 67.2 million Twitter TV impressions, which is basically a measure of how many times the tweets were seen; the movie itself had an audience of 3.9 million.

Indeed, during commercial breaks last night, Syfy was airing tweets from viewers, which, in addition to being a Twitter awareness play, creates a virtuous circle: it reminds other Twitter users to go on Twitter, and makes still others monitor the platform without ever logging in. On top of that, there are all of the services that aggregated tweets about the movie in real-time, and then, of course, there was today’s live-event hangover: the ritual posting of the best tweets. All this creates a Twitter audience that is, indeed, much larger than MAUs.

But the bad news is that, for now, it’s more likely that Twitter is being exploited than that Twitter is able to exploit all those user/viewers. Case in point: Subway, which got into the movie’s cameo-appearance-fest (Billy Ray Cyrus, Andy Dick, Robert Klein, Downtown Julie Brown) by having Jared appear on a bench in the subway, eating a sandwich from Subway – meta! -- as part of a larger product placement deal. Of course, the brand, which is no stranger to real-time, tweeted throughout, but did Twitter realize any profit from it? Probably not.

I’m trying to confirm, once and for all, that Subway didn’t buy any Promoted Tweets, but whatever the case, those impressions came cheap. Meanwhile, in the world of advertising and product placement deals -- in other words, where the Syfy Channel lives -- money, a lot of it, no doubt did change hands between advertiser and media platform.

Down the line, Twitter hopes that will change. But the biggest hurdle is one that’s gone largely unnoticed when it comes to talk of how Twitter will make even more money. Right now, there’s an expectation among advertisers that, particularly during live events, simply getting in on the conversation gets them the reach they want. As in the case of Subway, this strategy seems to work.

So how will Costolo & Co. get advertisers to start paying for it? Maybe we’ll find out, in time for #Sharknado3.

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