Jessica and Tad Hughes thought Twitter would be a great place to promote their Houston business, Tad Hughes Custom Fit Studio, which tailors bicycles to riders’ needs. So when they got an offer for $100 in free ads on the site in April, Jessica started experimenting. The next month, after spending the credit and a further $54 of their own money, she stopped advertising, having gained fewer than a dozen new followers. She didn’t know where her “promoted tweets” were being displayed, and none of the new fans appeared to be from Texas. “There is absolutely no comparison between our Facebook and Twitter advertisements,” says Hughes, who has bought locally targeted ads on Facebook for about a year.
In March, Twitter attempted to recruit mom-and-pop advertisers such as Hughes for the first time. Like ads on Facebook and Google, Twitter’s small business offering is “self-service,” meaning clients can buy the ads online without talking to a salesperson. Twitter had an estimated $134 million in U.S. ad revenue last year, according to research firm EMarketer, a figure dwarfed by Google and Facebook. If the new system works, it could help Twitter capture spending from businesses too small to afford its regular advertising. But three months into the trial, it’s not clear yet how Twitter’s ads stack up to its competitors’—and whether small businesses will find them worth the money.