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Twitter promises ad product improvements as ‘seasonality’ and IT bugs hamper Q3 revenues

Twitter execs have outlined how they plan to bolster its ad business after missing Q3 revenue targets. It blamed the weak growth on bugs affecting its mobile product, which further hindered ad sales already weakened by the “seasonality” of a slow summer.

Revenues for Q3 were up 9% year-on-year to $824m. The US reported a rise of 10% to $465m, while international growth was slower at 7%, totalling $358m.

Sales fell short of the expected $874m. Growth slowed substantially since Q3 2018, when sales grew 32% year-on-year.

The results, which sent shared in the tech firm tumbling 20%, were explained by advertising “headwinds” driven predominantly by bugs in the company’s targeting system. In a letter to shareholders, Twitter explained the issue had affected its ability to target ads and share data with its measurement and ad partners.

The bugs reduced year-over-year revenue growth by at least 3% in Q3, Twitter wrote in a letter to shareholders.

Ned Segal, Twitter’s chief financial officer, explained the glitches in the legacy mobile application promotion (MAP) product meant information regarding users’ device settings was shared with Twitter for targeting purposes, even if they had asked it not to be.

“When we discovered that ... we turned off the setting,” he said on an earnings call this morning (24 October). “That has a negative impact on revenue because it’s one less input you’ve got when you’re figuring out what ads to show people.”

Additionally, a bug meant Twitter was passing on data to measurement companies from users who explicitly asked not to be monitored in such a fashion.

“We stopped doing that, and although we are working on remediation, there isn’t remediation yet in place,” said Segal. “So, the effects of that will continue into Q4.”

Twitter recently faced criticism after it reported some users' private email addresses and phone numbers had been exposed to its advertisers in a breach of its targeting system.

Aside from the technical issues, organic advertiser interest in Twitter dropped in the quarter, too. "Greater-than-expected” seasonality issues began in July and continued into August, due to what the company dubbed a “relatively lighter slate of big events” taking place when compared to the same period in 2018.

The sales slowdown occurred as Twitter continued to push its offer to advertisers on its global ‘#StartWithThem’ roadshow. The platform has a goal to double its ad business by 2020 and become advertisers’ most recommended partner.

Today, Segal outlined the company’s immediate and long term plans to bring more advertiser dollars into the business and appease Wall Street qualms.

He first stated the company will continue to actively market its platform to big advertisers. By way of example, he observed that while 38 of this year’s Super Bowl advertisers were on the social network at the same time as the game, there were eight “to whom we still need to make the case".

“[We’re also] continuing to improve relevance, to continue to come out with better ad formats and improve versions of our existing ad formats," he said.

He added Twitter could do a better job in monetizing smaller advertisers – an area it has not “prioritized” in the past.

“We’ve got to do the engineering work and make the case to them better than we are today, and right now we’re chosen to prioritize other things first,” he said.

Finally, he noted the Twitter ads experience could also be improved through better educating clients and working more closely with advertisers on their paid-for content.

“There’s also opportunity without selling one more ad to put better copy in the ads that exist today,” he said. “And we still have half of our video ads being served at longer than 15 seconds. As you can imagine on a service like Twitter, the completion rates for video ads that are six seconds are much better.

“That, along with continuing to improve relevance, better formats and moving down the funnel in terms of the types of advertising that’s available ... are all things that ought to help us.”

Featured by The Drum

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