Promoted Tweets: Ego Trip or Marketing Tool?

This week Twitter held its first developers conference, dubbed Chirp, in San Francisco. Many of the third-party developers attending the event were shocked to learn that Twitter bought Atebits--makers of the Tweetie app, soon to be rebranded as Twitter for iPhone. The big news from a business and marketing perspective, though, was the announcement of promoted tweets.

Twitter announced promoted tweets at its first ever Chirp developers conference.
What are promoted tweets, you might ask? Well, let's break it down. I'll assume we all know that a tweet is a Twitter message or status update, ostensibly answering the question "what's happening?", with a maximum of 140 characters. Fair enough.

Now, let's analyze the "promoted" part. Promotions are a good thing. Who wouldn't like to be called in to the manager's office to be informed that they had just been promoted? Promotions mean more importance, and greater value to the company. Sometimes they even come with compensation increases--but that is an entirely different, bitter, and personal story. I digress.

Interestingly, promotion is also a word used for marketing and advertising--usually some sort of discount or targeted campaign aimed specifically at creating a spike in demand for the given product or service. If you combine the two meanings of promotion, and add it with "tweets", you get "promoted tweets": tweets that are raised in value or importance as an element of a targeted marketing campaign.

Bottom line: promoted tweets is like Google Adwords meets Twitter. When Twitter users conduct searches that match the keywords paid for by promoted tweets marketers, the promoted tweet will appear at the top of the search results. It is clearly labeled as a promoted tweet, so there is no attempt to convince users that it just happens to be the top search result.

The promoted tweets should be uniquely targeted to the individual. Twitter will analyze your Twitter existence--what you tweet about, who you follow, and other elements--to determine the ads, or promoted tweets, you are likely to be interested in.

Twitter has been leveraged as a marketing platform by social networking-savvy companies for some time now. Organizations see Twitter as a tool for engaging customers, providing support and feedback, and for marketing and promotion of products and services. Can promoted tweets be an effective marketing tool, though?

If I happen to search Twitter for the keyword "energy," and Starbucks and Red Bull promoted tweets pop up at the top of the list, I can virtually guarantee that I will ignore them and review the rest of the search results. I suppose I am not a valid barometer for the efficacy of promoted tweets, though, since I have never--not once--clicked on a Google adwords link either.

Perhaps there is some subliminal marketing value to simply having the name of the company pop up on the screen. I do spend a lot of money at Starbucks, and enjoy a Red Bull with vodka every now and then. But, it seems to me that promoted tweets are more of an ego trip than a marketing tool.

I definitely agree that Twitter itself is a tremendous marketing tool for companies. I think more companies should embrace social networking and learn how to use platforms like Twitter more effectively.

However, I just don't really see the value in promoted tweets. Promoted tweets won't be a huge investment, though, so in terms of marketing bang for the buck it may still be a worthwhile experiment as a form of advertising.

Rumor has it that the promoted tweets are already showing up for some, but I have yet to see one. Twitter has a handful of big name advertisers involved in the launch of promoted tweets, including Best Buy, Starbucks, and Red Bull. However, the initial roll out is only going to about ten percent of Twitter users, and apparently I am not part of that elite unit.

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies . He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW . You can follow him on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com .

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