Jun 24, 2009
Case Study #CS1983:
Online Ad Boosts Twitter Followers 69%: 4 Steps
SUMMARY: Twitter is fast rising in public awareness -- but is the public aware of your Twitter
Find out how Intuit’s TurboTax lifted their number of Twitter followers 69% with an ad that
incorporated their “tweets.” Includes tips on audience targeting and creative samples of the ads.
Toward the end of 2008, Seth Greenberg, Director, Online Advertising and Internet Media, Inuit,
and his team established Twitter feeds for several of Intuit’s brands. Intuit provides business and
financial management software that include the brands Quicken, QuickBooks, TurboTax, and
Since Twitter attracts a range of consumers, the team saw the channel as a good fit for their
consumer-focused tax preparation product, TurboTax. They wanted TurboTax to capture some
attention during Twitter’s recent surge in traffic. Twitter’s unique visitor counts went from less
than 5 million in January to more than 15 million in April, according to comScore. Although its
meteoric growth has slowed (see links below), the site’s traffic is still growing.
"We’re working so hard on Twitter as a channel that we want as many people as possible to
know that we’re here for them," says Greenberg.
Greenberg and his team needed to lift their number of followers to make sure they were reaching
consumers who were visiting the social network.
The best way to ensure that people know you are on Twitter is to have them messaging you and
following your feed. The team was approached by Google in March with the opportunity to test
an experimental display ad that would incorporate messages from the TurboTax Twitter feed.
Their goal was to run the test ad for one week and measure its impact on the feed’s awareness
and number of followers.
Here are the four steps they followed:
Step #1. Use existing Twitter feed
The team had been running a Twitter feed for several months and building their number of
followers. That experience gave them familiarity with the service and its audience’s preferences
and style before running the ad campaign.
In many ways, TurboTax’s feed worked as an extension of the brand’s customer service, says
Colleen Gatlin, Manager, Corporate Communications, Intuit, who works with the team’s Twitter
Consumers often asked questions through Twitter, and the team would either provide the
answers or point them to a place where they could find the answer themselves. Typical questions
and comments focused on the following topics:
o Tax questions
o Which Intuit product to use
o Product feedback
The team also posted messages that mentioned their PR efforts, promotions and tax and financial
Step #2. Build a live ad
The team built a 300x250 pixel display advertisement to promote TurboTax’s Twitter feed.
The ad included a dynamic content feature that cycled through the five most recent messages
written by the team into the feed:
- Each message was shown for about three seconds.
- The ad’s messages updated in real time as messages were sent into the feed.
- They only included company-written messages.
Although TurboTax’s Twitter feed displayed messages from consumers, these messages would
not be included in the display ad. Only messages from Greenberg’s team would be displayed.
This tactic made it less likely for an embarrassing or inflammatory message to be broadcast in
- They included a link to their Twitter homepage.
When clicked, the ad brought users to the TurboTax Twitter feed. It did not bring them to an area
to purchase products.
"We were not trying to sell TurboTax directly in this test," Greenberg says.
Step #3. Selectively broadcast the ad
The team had the option to display the ad across a wide range of websites, but declined.
Greenberg felt that general consumer-interest sites would be inappropriate for the campaign,
since not all consumers have experience with Twitter.
"We were more interested in people who were familiar with Twitter as a channel," he says.
"Twitter is fast and growing, but it’s still a relatively small number of people who use it."
The team ran the ad on 300 websites whose audiences likely were familiar with social media.
The sites included:
Step #4. Maintain standard Twitter strategy during the test
The team did not want to change its Twitter strategy for the sake of the test, even though the
messages would be syndicated to 300 websites via the ad.
The test was intended to last one week. TurboTax’s feed would last much longer, and any
temporary change in the team’s strategy could have created a backlash.
The team continued to answer people’s questions in a personal, one-on-one format, even though
these messages would not be relevant to a person viewing them through the ad. For instance, the
following real message might not have the context needed to be understood by a person viewing
"Pls DM me the contact info you'd like us to use and I’ll have someone contact you."
What the above message lacks in context it makes up for its adherence to the informal style of
"This was a one week test [started on April 1] that was so successful that we rolled it out through
April 15," Greenberg says.
The team received about 1 million impressions for each of the two weeks of the test. Additional
o 69% increase in TurboTax’s Twitter followers
o .04% clickthrough rate on the ad
- Recognition as an innovative brand
The team also scored press coverage by being at the center of what some members of the
technology media and blogosphere considered a partnership between Google and Twitter. The
campaign also had the benefit of showing that TurboTax can move fast as a company and take an
innovative approach to online advertising, Greenberg says.
Useful links related to this article:
Creative Samples from TurboTax’s Twitter Ads
How to Use Twitter to Push Your Products: Lessons from Woot
How to Target Twitter: 8 Ways to Build an Audience in this Niche Community
TechCrunch: Twitter growth takes a breather
TurboTax on Twitter