Twitter Targets 1 Billion Users, Challenging Facebook for Ads

Twitter Inc., the third-largest social-networking site, pledged to boost its membership more than sixfold to 1 billion, helping the microblogging service compete with Facebook Inc. in attracting advertisers.

“Twitter will get to a billion members,” Evan Williams, Twitter’s co-founder and former chief executive officer, said in San Francisco yesterday, echoing a goal set by Facebook. Williams didn’t elaborate on a timeframe.

The company, whose users send more than 100 million short messages daily, said last month that it will seek more advertisers after a successful trial with such brands as Starbucks Corp., ESPN and Coca-Cola Co. Social-networking services, capitalizing on their millions of users, are increasingly targeting ads as a main source of revenue.

“They certainly have defied expectations,” said Greg Sterling, a San Francisco-based Internet consultant. “A lot of people saw them purely as a niche service or dismissed their capacity to have global reach. It’s within the realm of possibility that they will get to a billion users.”

San Francisco-based Twitter started a test this year with 30 advertisers, including major movie studios, Nike Inc. and Best Buy Co. Ads are displayed next to the site’s search results and by the most popular topics on the right side of the Web page. An estimated 9 percent of ads online are “touched” by a user’s mouse for an average of 43 seconds, MediaMind Technologies Inc., a maker of software for digital ad campaigns, said last month.

A Billion Users

The benefit for marketers is instant access to target groups of customers with specific messages, offers and discounts.

Facebook, the world’s most popular social-networking site, has more than 500 million users, compared with 165 million for Twitter. Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this year that reaching a billion members, or about 15 percent of the world’s population, is “almost a guarantee.”

Twitter, founded in 2006, revamped its site last month to make it easier to post photos, video and maps directly on the page. The redesign gives marketers a new way to use multimedia in online promotions.

Twitter now ranks third globally among social-networking sites, topping News Corp.’s MySpace, according to ComScore Inc. in Reston, Virginia. Windows Live Profile is second.

Williams said the company is planning to offer an advertising service to small businesses on the site, which will complement ads it offers to bigger brands.