In a much-anticipated announcement, Twitter on Tuesday began rolling out advertising. The advertising model is aimed at transforming Twitter from a social-media phenomenon to a profitable company.
The ad service is called Promoted Tweets. Promoted Tweets are ordinary tweets that advertisers want to highlight to a wider group of users. Twitter cofounder Biz Stone described it as a nontraditional, easy model that "makes tons of sense" for Twitter. Twitter COO Dick Costolo was to share more details about the fledgling service at the AdAge Digital conference Tuesday.
According to Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, the path that Twitter has chosen is generally very safe and also proven. It's essentially the Google paid-search model.
"There is some controversy over the proposed 'push' component that would potentially roll out later. Under that idea, Promoted Tweets will appear 'involuntarily' in users' feeds, rather than as sponsored posts at the top of search results," Sterling said. "However, I assume the company will be very careful about relevance and avoiding the appearance of spam."
Phases of Promoted Tweets
As Sterling hinted, Promoted Tweets will roll out in phases. The first phase will launch with a handful of advertising partners, including Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks and Virgin America. Twitter users will start to see Tweets promoted by advertisers called out at the top of some Twitter.com search-results pages.
"Promoted Tweets will be clearly labeled as 'promoted' when an advertiser is paying, but in every other respect they will first exist as regular tweets and will be organically sent to the timelines of those who follow a brand," Stone said. "Promoted Tweets will also retain all the functionality of a regular tweet, including replying, retweeting and favoriting. Only one Promoted Tweet will be displayed on the search-results page."
After gauging how the Promoted Tweets are resonating with its members and the value it's offering to advertisers, Stone said the company is planning to allow Promoted Tweets to be shown by Twitter clients and other ecosystem partners and to expand beyond Twitter search, including displaying relevant Promoted Tweets in member timelines. This is where Sterling noted the service might get somewhat controversial.
But Stone stressed that all Promoted Tweets are organic tweets. In other words, all of the ads are already part of the advertiser's tweet flow. Stone also noted that Promoted Tweets will be timely, delivering information relevant to members at the moment. Overall, he continued, Promoted Tweets must meet a higher bar because they must resonate with users or Twitter will remove them.
Will Twitter's new program succeed? It's too soon to tell, but Sterling offers some insight. "Twitter has the scale to make considerable money off these programs," he said. "Because its search volumes are unreported, we don't know quite how much at this point."