Since launching its advertising platform three years ago, Twitter evolved its offerings at a staggering pace. Due to the lack of data it requires users to provide, Twitter may lag behind Facebook in demographic targeting, but has and will continue to use its real-time nature as a key differentiator from competitors in the social media advertising space.

Here’s a quick refresher on the targeting options Twitter currently offers for its Promoted Tweets products:

  • Demographic: Location (by country, state, or metro area), gender, device/platform
  • Search:  Allows brands to target users who are actively looking for information about a specific topic, either by using the search bar or by clicking on a hashtag
  • Interest: Tweets delivered to users who fit into 350+ interest categories (based on the types of accounts a given user follows) or to users who follow accounts similar to those selected by the marketer (e.g., a brand hoping to reach men interested in fashion could target users who are similar to those following @GQMagazine).

Keep in mind that “similar users” following a given account may not necessarily follow the account themselves, which is important to know in a campaign targeting competitors.

Promoted Tweets using interest targeting are delivered directly into the user’s timeline, without them explicitly looking for information about that topic.

Twitter’s advertising platform still faces some limitations though – and there are opportunities for growth. For example:

  • Location targeting is based on where users spent most of their time in the previous 30 day period, rather than where they are at a given moment. There is no way to isolate attendees in Austin at SXSW from people tweeting about SXSW in Chicago.
  • Depending on the nature of the terms, the impression volume for search targeting can be too low to generate scale. Search traffic on Twitter is driven primarily by real-time events. A furniture manufacturer looking to sell more couches by targeting users searching for “couch,” “living room,” and “furniture,” may be disappointed.
  • Interest targeting in timelines generates more impressions, but the audience isn’t always fully relevant, and isn’t necessarily reached at the right moment in time.
  • Twitter users often talk about a given subject without searching for tweets about that topic.
  • Twitter users may talk about a lot of topics without necessarily following accounts related to those topics.

Looking at the updates that Twitter has made over the past year and thinking about some of the features advertisers are clamoring for, here are some guesses about where Twitter may head next:

  • Targeting based on the text of users’ tweets. Imagine an electronics manufacturer being able to reach a user who says they’re on their way to buy a new TV, even if they aren’t following any electronics brands or searching for information about the best TVs on Twitter.
  • Real-time GPS and/or IP address targeting. This would resolve the problem of not being able to target users who are traveling away from their hometown. Some consumers would perceive this as being too “Big Brother”, but many already willingly provide Twitter with location data, so it shouldn’t cause too much of a stir. In addition, if they expanded geo-targeting to include ZIP code data, rather than just metropolitan areas, restaurants and retailers could target users in their neighborhood, without wasting money on people on the other side of town.
  • Deeper interest targeting and conquesting options. Twitter’s list of interest categories is a good start, but they don’t go deep enough for every advertiser’s needs. For example, advertisers don’t currently have a good way to target fans of a specific NFL team. While a brand could use account targeting and include @49ers, Twitter acknowledges that the proportion of users you reach who are actually following the accounts you target may be as low as 5%. There isn’t a lot of clarity on exactly how this algorithm works, so providing additional information on who is being reached with this targeting approach would be a step in the right direction.
  • Day-part targeting. Short of manually pausing and restarting their campaigns every day, a coffee brand currently doesn’t have the ability to promote their products to people only in the morning.

With the paid social landscape changing all the time, the only constant is that marketers need to stay on their toes and take advantage of new offerings as they’re released. A successful campaign strategy in April may be obsolete by June. This is a challenge, but it’s an exciting time to be in the industry, and I’m looking forward to see what the future holds.

David Heiser is a Senior Account Executive at Zócalo Group, an award-winning word-of-mouth, social and digital marketing agency in Chicago. When not executing campaigns for his clients, David is documenting his never-ending quest to uncover the Windy City’s best ethnic restaurants at ChicagoCabFare.com. Follow him at @DavidHeiser.

(Diving image from Shutterstock)