With new mobile install ads, Twitter keeps benefitting from doing just what Facebook did


twitter-facebook-brothersFor Twitter, it is good to be the younger sibling in the social media club. It gets to follow in Facebook’s footsteps. It gets to avoid its mistakes. Facebook had to push the boundaries and take in harsh criticisms. Twitter gets the benefit of the doubt and the advantages of hindsight.

Case in point: Twitter made it official this morning that it will be launching app install ads through its MoPub mobile ad marketplace. With considerable enthusiasm, the announcement talked up the creative and measurement tools available to developers in this new offering. Twitter users will even be able to download the app directly from their Timeline. Boy howdy!

The announcement of course doesn’t credit Facebook, but it’s a completely Xeroxed product offering. Mobile app install ads have been a bonanza for Facebook. Launched at the end of 2012, they spurred 245 million app downloads in 2013. Mark Zuckerberg has said the ads were one of the best things Facebook did last year. After its disastrous IPO, mobile app install ads were the product that gave Facebook its mobile advertising mojo back.

As it looks to monetize, Twitter has the advantage of copying the good bits of Facebook playbook, wholesale. It doesn’t even need to tweak the pitch.

It has happened like clockwork. Facebook has built out a multi-billion dollar business with direct-response ads in the last couple of years. In February, Twitter launched a Mobile Marketing Platform program to partner with brands to build out its own direct-response capabilities. Weeks before that, Twitter added promoted accounts to search results, to “help businesses build a follower base of highly engaged users.” It’s where Facebook was with brands two years ago, trying to connect with relevant audiences in real time.

Twitter gets to see where Facebook stumbled. Facebook was slow to mobile, Twitter has built largely a mobile first business. Facebook threw out as many ad offerings as it could, until it had confused advertisers beyond recognition and had to slowly begin to cull it all back to what worked. Twitter has slowly built in its ad functions one-by-one, working conservatively to monetize the platform in a sensible fashion.

Hell, Twitter is even in the midst of an unabashed attempt to make its profile pages look and act more like Facebook accounts. Short of copying its outlandish billion dollar purchases, there’s not much more to emulate.

Twitter and Facebook are not identical. Facebook users share more direct information about their location, interests and identity and their networks are a more specific statement to their social circles. This gives Facebook greater potential for audience targeting. Twitter doesn’t have all of that power, but it has a benefit of context that Facebook doesn’t. It knows what we’re thinking and what we’re interested in, at a given moment.

Within that, Facebook and Twitter have strengths to help them to justify to advertisers why they should spend money there. But the core, base functionality of each overlaps closely.

To get where it is now, Facebook had to do a lot of flailing and lurching. Twitter just had to do what Facebook did (or not).

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]