As the dust settles from Twitter's recent IPO, one of the surprising outcomes was the news the microblogging platform is on track to post global ad revenue figures of $1 billion by the end of next year. In the U.S. alone, Twitter's ad revenue showed an increase of 93 percent over the same period the previous year, with $277 million posted for the first three quarters in 2013.
With mobile becoming ever more pervasive as the browser of choice for Twitter users, and mobile ads growing less intrusive and more natural, it's clear that Twitter has moved from the social network that has a "monetization problem" to one that's set to give the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn a run for their revenue money. But will it be the "winner" in the upcoming social ads battle?
Why Social Ads Are Big News
With social media finally becoming a staple in the marketing and advertising departments at businesses, reliance on traditional advertising has begun to swing to digital channels. While media buy and print/television/radio advertising remains important, budgets are increasingly being allocated to digital spend.
As these budgets shift and consumers turn to social media to not only research products and brands, but either buy directly from a social media-led offer or click through to a landing page, the networks are looking at ways to take advantage of this shift and be the go-to ad partner for businesses and marketers.
It's not surprising that the bean counters over at Facebook, Google, Twitter and the rest are so keen to attract advertisers to their platforms—by 2017, it's predicted that social media ad spend worldwide will exceed $10 billion. Add in mobile spend and it's a piece of the pie that will literally cost the networks millions if they're not part of it.
Social Ad Spend And Revenue By Network
If you look back at how the networks fared in 2013, there's one clear winner and that's Google. A study by eMarketer at the beginning of this year predicts Google to account for a third of all online advertising, easily outstripping its nearest competitor, Facebook.
While Facebook shows a strong second with almost $6.5 billion in online ad revenue, both Twitter and LinkedIn trail with a distant $0.6 billion and $0.4 billion respectively. Yet that doesn't really tell the full story.
Google's online ad revenue is made up of multiple factors and platforms. For example, while the majority of its revenue still comes from AdWords and AdSense, there's also the revenue from advertisers on its YouTube property. Speaking of YouTube, Google launched a Paid Channel option for any user with over 10,000 subscribers, where channel owners could charge subscribers $0.99 or more per month for access. Google is reported to receive around 45 percent of channel subscription costs, adding to its online revenue stream.
Compared to the other "Big Four" social networks—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+—Google has a clear advantage by the number of revenue streams it earns from. However, the others are starting to make inroads into this advantage, certainly by number of additional revenue streams if not quite actual revenue yet.
Twitter Revenue Potential
As mentioned earlier, the microblogging platform has (perhaps) surprised many, by sharing some excellent revenue figures. Advertising revenue has increased 124 percent on a year-over-year basis; advertising revenue makes up 91 percent of total revenue, an increase of 4 percent; and gross margins increased.
While operating losses increased and data licensing revenue decreased, Twitter is still in good shape to make a healthy profit in 2014 and beyond from social ads, especially given its acquisitions of companies like Bluefin Labs and Trendrr, with the potential of social ads making their way into TV engagement via Twitter.
Facebook Revenue Potential
The first major network to successfully transition to an IPO, Facebook has used both the money from that as well as increasing focus on its developer labs to continuously introduce new social ad revenue. While the company has received criticism over its mobile experience versus the desktop one, Facebook has still made great strides in revenue from this part of its social monetization strategy.
While it's still a ways behind Google—but then again, who isn't?—Facebook's mobile ad revenue has tripled in the last year, making it the most impressive when it comes to growth in this vertical. Additionally, with news that ads from Instagram (Facebook's first major acquisition) aren't being received as negatively as Facebook may have feared, the potential for revenue from this channel is something to keep an eye on.
LinkedIn Revenue Potential
While Facebook, Twitter and Google are natural fits for social ads with their consumer-led audience, LinkedIn has always stood apart as a professional business network. As such, it's been one of the bigger success stories for social media/network revenue, although its most recent financial reports show one of its first declines in year-on-year reporting.
However, LinkedIn knows it needs to expand beyond premium accounts and services for recruiters for its monetization and has begun to implement a series of changes to focus on that. Its new focus on content is a clear shift in how it wants to double its ad revenue in the next two years.
Additionally, the introduction of a LinkedIn Advertising API will make it easier for brands and agencies to advertise on the network. That's not even taking into account its mobile plans, with an aggressive update of its app to make the mobile experience as seamless as the desktop one.
Who Will The Social Ad Winners Be?
Just looking at the (current) top four—Twitter, Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn—and the smart money would be on both Twitter and Facebook to make the most progress.
Acquisitions and channel partners, as well as their plans for mobile advertising to continue to add to the revenue stream, should see Twitter and Facebook eat further into Google's current dominance. While there's no doubt that Google+ is increasing in user numbers, how social ads will play into the experience remains to be seen. LinkedIn, meanwhile, still needs to make the experience sticky enough to keep users engaged.
And what about other platforms? Pandora, for example, continues to see growth in its ad revenue—and with other networks globally enjoying large, engaged user bases expanding their geographic audience, it can't be too long before the current top four look very different.
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