Paying for Paper Views

In my line of research (social-and-not-only networks) use of Twitter is pretty common. We use it to announce and learn about talks, articles, and smaller pieces of work (such as this post). Nothing fancy.

A few days ago, out of curiosity, I created a paid Twitter campaign to have one of my tweets—containing a link to a recently published paper—promoted. Disclaimer: I have paid for the campaign from my private funds.

The promoted tweet was pretty bare-bone

This was my first experience with creating a campaign on Twitter, so I didn’t do any optimizations. The goal was also not to actually bump the views/downloads of the paper (although I had been ready to be surprised). I simply dropped 17 twitter handles as a seed, all of them researchers from the field and general science people and institutions. This resulted in Twitter estimating the audience of 566k, including my followers, users like them, and users like followers of any of the 17 accounts. This was before choosing required targeted location.

I initially set the bid really low to $0.50. It is important to note, that Twitter charges you for the interactions with your tweet, not the impressions. The bid is for how much you are willing to pay for the click, if the user decides to do so. The higher the maximum bid, the more users you can eventually reach, but at some point the money will run out. As I decided to go all-in and spend $40 on the fun, I never stood a chance to reach hundreds of thousands of users. Maybe if I didn’t put the link to the paper there (which would limit the engagement options), but this would probably defeat the purpose.

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After including location targeting, for which I could only choose UK and US, Twitter estimated I will be able to win bids and have my tweet appear for 2k users. This is how it happened:


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You can see a pretty standard pattern of my tweet immediately making its way to the low-hanging fruit users, flattening through the day, peaking right after 5 pm, gaining some impressions over the evening, and finally dying. It has reached the audience for which the bids were low and didn’t want to move any further. In that period, 10 out of 2,032 users clicked the link…

Not ready to give up, and with $35 still to burn, I increased the max bid to (a relatively high) $2.50. Immediately (at the red line), my tweet was back in the game, peaking at around 1,700 impressions in the first hour. At around 10pm I ran out of money.

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 5.21.07 PMAfter increasing the  bid, I reached another 2,260 users (before running out of money). In the first 2k users however, I got 10 engagements. In the second 2k I got 36 engagements. This was not a proper experiment, I did not do A/B testing, but it seems pretty clear that the Twitter users are not all equal in their engagement with particular content and the bid value reflects it. Personally, I would be very interested as a user to learn about the bids that were placed to get into my timeline.

Because I was not charged for the impressions, my tweet was inserted into relatively high number of timelines. It is arguably useless, if there is no resulting interaction, but at least I got to learn how Twitter sees the demographics of what I understand as my research target population. Without the null population I don’t know how interesting are those results, next time I should run similar campaign but promoting the latest Justin Bieber’s album, just to get the baseline. The interests Twitter did spit out do not strike me as particularly telling. F/M ratio is sadly what I would expect, so it may be accurate.

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Finally, after the campaign, Twitter suggest how to improve the next handover of my money to them, including suggested seeds to add. No surprises here, seems I ended with more popular rather than hardcore-science crowd.

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 5.16.06 PM

The most interesting learning for me was the reaction of some of the folks who encountered my promoted tweet.

Paying for having (tweets about) paper promoted does feel a bit strange. On the other hand, we often pay higher publication fees to ensure Open Access publication, so why not pay to disseminate the existence of such paper? With the concept of altmetrics getting stronger, such practices could however result in making the (highly) paying authors to have more impact. As far as I can tell, PLOS did not pick up my promoted tweet as ‘shares’. Not sure if it influenced (or had potential to) any other metrics.

Putting an add about a paper on a building or on TV would be ridiculous. Promoting it on Twitter (and other similar media) is totally within a reach of a regular first author. And does not feel that ridiculous?

It was an interesting  experience, I would say I got my $40 worth. There may be a potential in doing something around understanding our research target population piggybacking  on Twitter’s analytics by doing such campaigns. Oh, and I’m trying very hard not to promote the tweet linking to this article, just to make a meta-point.

And there is a larger discussion lurking in the shadows, about paying to promote your research in social media. Would you?



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