In Bruce Falck’s office, there’s a piece of paper tacked to the wall with a list of important reminders: GDPR, MRC, transparency, measurement.
But rather than focusing on “external factors,” the GM of Twitter’s revenue product and his growing team are “getting back to basics.”
Twitter has spent the last two years striking content partnerships, changing products to spur user growth, doubling down on video and improving its ad offering to include more innovative units, including video website cards, which combine video with direct-response.
“How can we execute our vision, what can we do better for consumers and what can we do better for advertisers to be a useful partner – those are our metrics,” Falck said.
The vision appears to be panning out. Twitter’s stock is at a three-year high. JPMorgan analysts raised their target on Twitter’s stock 21% to $50 per share due to its advertising momentum.
AdExchanger caught up with Falck, whose ad tech roots run deep – he served as COO at BrightRoll and CEO of Turn (pre-Amobee acquisition) before joining Twitter – to talk brand safety challenges, programmatic plans and why DR is poised to make a comeback on Twitter.
AdExchanger: What’s been the overarching strategy during your first year?
BRUCE FALCK: I’ve spent a lot of time talking to the sales team and to customers about what Twitter is, what we can do differently than some of our competitors – particularly some of the larger ones – and what we’re doing really well already. It’s about getting back to basics.
What does it mean to ‘get back to basics?’
We did some soul searching in the back half of the last year, and it comes down to three things we think we do better than anyone else: helping a brand launch something new, like a product; helping advertisers connect with what’s happening, which could be an event unfolding on the platform; and helping promote a brand’s story.
What about more down-funnel stuff like direct-response?
Game and app developers are looking to drive installs, conversions and traffic to their sites. We have a sizable app-install business, and there’s a bunch of work we’re planning over the course of the next year to improve our ad features for performance advertisers. This has been less of a focus for the last 12 months, but it’s going to become much more of a focus in the next 12 to 24 months.
How far along are you with programmatic?
We’re running tests with multiple brands, agencies and trading desks, but we’re proceeding with caution, in part because of GDPR and also because of our other priorities. We’re trying to understand how much demand there is going to be. But my general principle here is that if advertisers want to buy our inventory programmatically, we should offer them that choice.
What about brand safety? Being a place where conversation happens means that some of the conversations will be about things advertisers don’t want anything to do with.
We’re partnering with brands that want to bring dollars online from television, but they’re anxious about being in a brand-safe environment. We work with all of the usual partners, including DoubleVerify, Moat, IAS and Nielsen.
To start, we’ve only monetized a subset of video on the platform, and we’ve focused on professionally produced, high-end content for our partnerships. The tricky thing is that, like Facebook and YouTube, we’ve also got lots and lots of user-generated content. Twitter is an open and public platform, which means brand safety is something we’ve had to work on very closely with brands.
We’ve done a lot of whitelisting and blacklisting of keywords to give advertisers more control over the content they show up next to. We also do a lot of machine learning to analyze tweets and make sure we’re serving ads with good content adjacency, that ads appear above and below tweets that are brand-safe. That work is ongoing.
What are Twitter’s video aspirations?
The most important thing for us on the ad side is to also respect the consumer. That’s why we have to remain format agnostic. We don’t want to push one format over another. That said, when it comes to in-app mobile feed-type formats, video is a very powerful medium.
The default tends to be in-stream video, but we’ve also been working to accommodate folks that are used to buying traditional TV with formats like video website cards, which have the stopping power of video combined with the ability to buy on a click or impression objective. It’s been one of the biggest growth drivers for us over the last year.
You’ve really ramped up hiring since you got to Twitter. What kind of people are you looking for on your team?
We’re hiring a ton, and it’s going to continue over the next couple of years. We’re looking for folks that have a background in ad tech, people with experience building big, complex ad platforms. There are not a lot of companies in the world – maybe just Facebook, Google and Twitter – that are building at-scale ad platforms. We also have a strong machine-learning team, which is something we’re going to keep investing in.
What is Twitter doing to expand beyond being a niche buy? It’s nice to not be embroiled in a data scandal, but doesn’t that also mean Twitter has less data for targeting?
I’d say we’re well positioned. Our data licensing business is public, but Twitter also inherently has a large pool of logged-in users and we’re mobile-first. We control our own inventory, we have data on our own users and we’ve maintained our data partnerships with Acxiom, LiveRamp and Oracle’s Datalogix. We’re very particular about who we partner with and we have a lot of constraints around those partnerships. There is a responsible way to use data.
What’s on the road map?
At the top of the list we want to test more and different kinds of ad formats and creatives. We’re building a system so people can mix and match their own ad formats, which I think will lead to a lot of innovation. Building an ad format takes a lot of time. With input from brands, we can do testing and then we can productize. We’ll likely do a product launch related to this before the end of the year.
This interview has been edited and condensed.