Twitter will start testing a new advertising program that delivers contextually relevant ads in a user's search results, the micro-blogging site announced on Tuesday. Called Promoted Tweets, the new ad program will post sponsored tweets at the top of your Twitter search results, based on the context of your search terms.
(Image courtesy of AdAge.)
These sponsored search results, which are similar in some ways to Google's AdSense program, are just the first step in Twitter's new advertising plans; more changes will be considered after Twitter has had time to measure the success of Promoted Tweets. Here's what's going on:
Twitter is hyping the "organic" nature of Promoted Tweets, where advertising will be based on tweets that Twitter's advertising partners have already sent out in their regular Twitter streams. At launch, these advertising partners include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks, and Virgin America.
If a business wants a particular message to reach a wider audience, that tweet will become a Promoted Tweet and will appear at the top of contextually relevant search results. "There is not a single 'ad' in our Promoted Tweets platform that isn't already an organic part of Twitter," wrote Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone in a blog post announcing the program . "This is distinct from both traditional search advertising and more recent social advertising."
Twitter says the messages will be clearly labeled as "promoted" and will function just like any other tweet with the ability for users to retweet (repost), reply, or bookmark the message. In fact, what users do with these "Promoted Tweets" may be crucial to the success of Twitter's new advertising program. The micro-blog says it will measure the success of particular tweets to make sure that only messages that "resonate with users" are included in Promoted Tweets. So if people don't interact with a particular sponsored message by retweeting, replying, or bookmarking it, the company says the tweet will soon disappear from search results.
After the company has had a chance to figure out how well (or not) users are interacting with the new ads, Twitter will begin to look at rolling out Promoted Tweets in third-party Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck and Seesmic. The company is also considering pushing Promoted Tweets into your Twitter stream even if you're not following a specific advertiser. So if Best Buy wants to promote a weekend sale or Sony Pictures wants to introduce a new movie trailer, company tweets promoting these events could start showing up in your regular Twitter message stream.
Healthy case of doubt going around
Both users and companies are uncertain as to whether Twitter's new program will succeed, especially since corporations can already use Twitter to advertise to a targeted audience just by having Twitter followers. As Twitter user angie_seattle pointed out , "I don't understand why a company like @Starbucks gains more from buying a twitter sponsored ad than from just interacting with customers." Starbucks wasn't sure what the company would gain from the new program either. Responding to angie_seattle's point, Starbucks representative Brad Nelson tweeted , "We're curious as well. For us, it's all about giving people the right answers and being relevant when they search."
Other Twitter user's weren't thrilled with the idea of receiving Twitter-based advertising likening it to unsolicited e-mail. Twitter user Jennifer Ross tweeted, "great, twitter is going to inject spam into timelines ." Others offered similar sentiments about the prospects of Twitter-based advertising messages.
Whether or not Promoted Tweets will be thought of as spam or relevant messages depends largely on how users respond to the ads, and whether the ads are seen as intrusive once Twitter starts injecting promotional messaging into users' regular streams. But the fact remains that Twitter must figure out a way to bring in revenue beyond the search deals it has signed with major search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Stone's blog post did not say whether Twitter would offer a fee-based, ad-free version of Twitter for those who prefer not to see any advertising.
Twitter's COO Dick Costolo will be speaking in great detail about Promoted Tweets on Tuesday during the AdAge Digital Conference.
Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul ).