Twitter Is Finally Preparing To Release Its Advertising API In Q1, Say Sources

People have speculated that 2013 will be the year that Twitter will reach $1 billion in advertising revenues. That strategy could get a boost very soon with the entry of mass-market advertising: Twitter is finally gearing up to launch its advertising API some time in Q1. Aimed at large advertisers and their agencies, it will give them the ability to launch scaled-up campaigns across the social network, and it also opens the door to more sophisticated targeting and analytics tools in the process.

According to several sources, the company has started briefing social media marketing agencies, which help brands and big advertisers plan and buy ads on social networks like Twitter, with conversations taking place just before the holidays.

“I have been in discussions with Twitter and they contacted us right before the holidays saying it was getting close to having their advertising API ready,” one executive said.

TechCrunch also spoke with a would-be advertiser, who said that his agency advised against changes in their Twitter ad strategy in the short-term “because their API will be changing” in Q1 of this year.

Twitter declined to comment for this story — “We don’t have anything to share at this time,” a spokesperson told me. And it has not started sharing too many details about what the advertising API would entail, exactly, with agencies, “but we have been getting updates that state that it will be very close to what their current self-serve model is,” a source said.

Twitter first introduced advertising on its platform in April 2010, and the self-service tool that is currently in place lets companies, and their agencies, upload ads to run across the social network covering formats like Promoted Tweets.

But these are uploaded one at a time, which doesn’t work for large campaigns. “The value add that the ad API will bring is the ability to productively and efficiently grow and scale campaigns,” a source said. “One-at-a-time can be very time-consuming if you are managing multiple or very large campaigns for large advertisers. Also, it’s a challenge if you’re an ad agency operating in this manner.”

Launching an advertising API is something that has, reportedly, been long in the planning, with this Reuters story from July 2011 noting it would be coming “soon.” Equally in the air is whether Twitter will offer a separate advertising API, as Facebook does, or whether it would be rolled out as part of a wider update to its general API for other data calls: this was an idea Marketing Land floated in September 2012, when Twitter noted in its API 1.1 release terms that “Twitter reserves the right to serve advertising via its APIs (“Twitter Ads”). If you decide to serve Twitter Ads once we start delivering them, we will share a portion of advertising revenue with you per our then-current terms and conditions.”

But in either case, it does seem that this time around, the API is finally coming. Apart from several sources confirming that Twitter is talking up its advertising API, the startup has made several other recent moves that point to it super-sizing its commercial efforts.

On January 22, it opened up a way for advertisers to launch global campaigns across its different geographies (or to target several specific geographies at once), by adding support for different markets around the world. Twitter, which has 200 million monthly active users, says 70 percent of registered accounts are outside the U.S.

On January 17, it expanded its Certified Products Program, which allows brands and businesses to better measure how they are performing on the social network, and to better manage their engagement. The expansion added new partners in areas like engagement, data analytics and data reselling. Twitter also appointed Zach Hofer-Shall to manage the program and expand it further.

Part of that change, it seems, could see a further expansion of the role of those certified partners. A senior person at one of these partners, which focuses today on helping businesses manage their presence on Twitter, says that his company is soon planning to launch “something very unique with Twitter and advertising,” with the news planned for the next few weeks, which would also match up with the news of an advertising API.

Agencies say they are ready and waiting for Twitter to launch an advertising API. “We are very excited to include Twitter ad API capability once it becomes readily available for release because large advertisers are ready to scale campaigns there,” said Luis Caballero, the COO of Blinq, the social media agency bought by Gannett last year.

And the brands are waiting, too. “As an advertiser, we’re going to be taking more advantage of Twitter in 2013, and anything that they can do to enable this will be a good thing in my book,” one marketing head told me.

The timing of an advertising API is also worth watching in the context of Twitter scaling up revenues and speculation of an IPO. Like Twitter, Facebook derives the vast majority of its revenues from advertising. Facebook launched its first advertising API as a limited private beta in late 2009, before opening it up for wider usage in August 2011, about 10 months before its IPO.

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