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Summary:

It remains to be seen whether all social networks can be profitable on advertising alone — and crucially what formats will work best alongs…

It remains to be seen whether all social networks can be profitable on advertising alone — and crucially what formats will work best alongside people’s communications with each other — but for now we are at least seeing some big growth in the space.

In 2011, Twitter’s advertising revenues grew 233 percent, and LinkedIn’s sales were up 95 percent, and both are set to see more growth in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, just days before an expected IPO, Facebook has solidified its lead in online display advertising not just in social networking, but over all online properties.

According to figures out from eMarketer today, Twitter’s revenue from advertising was a mere $139.5 million in 2011, but that was actually up by 233 percent over 2010. The analysts believe that international growth will further push that number up to $259.9 million this year, a rise of 83 percent.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD) actually rounded off 2011 with more ad revenues than Twitter, with $154.6 million in sales. But it will see much more modest growth in the years ahead, with that figure only going up by 46 percent in 2012 to $226 million. At the moment, LinkedIn is proving to have the bigger international profile when it comes to advertising, with some 32 percent of its ad revenues expected to come from outside the U.S. in 2012, versus only 10 percent for Twitter. (Full tables with forecasts at the bottom of this post.)

Today, Twitter has some 300 million users compared to 135 million for LinkedIn, and so some of Twitter’s gain on LinkedIn in ad revenues could be down to that simple fact. User numbers may, too, be the reason why Twitter will widen its lead in ad sales even further in the years ahead. By 2014, eMarketer predicts that Twitter will have annual ad revenues of $540 million compared to $405.6 million for LinkedIn.

But even those 2014 figures are still less than 15 percent of what Facebook makes in advertising at the moment, mostly in the form of display ads.

With revenues of $4.27 billion in 2011, $3.8 billion of that from advertising (eMarketer via WSJ) Facebook is the social network to beat. That’s true today but also in the future, as it only continues to enhance the services it offers to engage users and keep them on the site for longer.

According to figures provided by comScore (NSDQ: SCOR), in the U.S. Facebook has widened its lead in the display-advertising market in 2011. It now has 27.9 percent of that market, compared to 21 percent the year before. That puts Facebook significantly ahead of the next-closest competitor in display, Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO), which is at 11 percent. The full figures for 2011 and how they compare to 2010:

In UK figures provided also by comScore, the leadership of Facebook is even stronger, with over 30 percent of the market for 2011 in terms of revenues.

With Twitter and LinkedIn, it is too early to tell which social network’s ad formats prove to be the more engaging, and more attractive to media buyers.

For now, it looks like LinkedIn is winning at least in the variety stakes, with ads to match particular user profiles and professions, as well as different areas for placement (Profile Page, Home Page, Inbox, Search Results Page and Groups) and formats. Twitter has, so far, concentrated on promoted tweets as the basis of their advertising. LinkedIn offers advertisers a self-serve platform for its services. Twitter launched its ad platform only in November 2011, and as eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Wiliamson puts it, the “verdict is still out” on whether it will gain traction.


  1. Very interesting. I think part of the question marks and ambiguity surrounding LI as a viable ad platform for companies is the fact that people spend miniscule amount of time on LI compared to other social platforms. Will be interesting how the model develops and how they can best use LI platform for ad campaigns!

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