Twitter to Advertisers: Let's Tweet

Last Updated Feb 23, 2010 2:16 PM EST

The Twitter-verse, which currently clocks 50 million tweets per day, is always pumping out news, but now there is news about Twitter itself. The launch of its much-anticipated ad platform is only a month away, according to product management and monetization chief Anamitra Banerji, who spoke (a little) about it at the annual conference of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Why does this matter? Because Twitter, which launched three years ago, has never made a profit; it doesn't even have a revenue model. It has left the money-making schemes to some of the dozens of developers who have built applications atop the Twitter platform. But at some point, Twitter has to stand on its own, and how would manage that has been a major matter of speculation, for at least 18 months. The easy answer to Twitter's monetization issues was to sell advertising. But in terms of business operations at Twitter, things are seldom as simple as typing out a 140-character tweet. A it has developed, so has its users' idea of what the Twitter experience should be. For most, that means an organic, ongoing conversation among people they want to connect with that is not interrupted upon by advertisers. That makes building an ad platform a very dicey proposition, but there are some clues as to how Twitter will go about it. The biggest one is to look at what advertisers are doing on the service--setting up free Twitter accounts and becoming part of the conversation just like everyone else. Banerji made it clear to the IAB audience that whatever ad platform emerges will play off those characteristics. He speculated, per a post at GigaOm, about brands got into conversations with their consumers. He added that while these ads will be clearly marked as sponsor ads, the goal is to make them "relevant and useful, so the user doesn't think of it as an ad." Banerji did not say, however, how he planned to charge advertisers or what the goals are.

So essentially, what Twitter will be asking advertisers to do is something many haven't done before: adjust their command-and-control mentality and become conversationalists with users who care about them. Pre-packaged ad units need not apply. While some corporate accounts -- @comcastcares and @jetblue jump to mind -- have honed these skills using their free accounts during Twitter's early years, for many, this will be difficult. Rather than simply being another place to advertise, Twitter is looking to change how advertisers think about what they do. Therefore, if some see Twitter's launching an ad platform as a revolution, when you consider what Twitter says it's up to, it might be best to leave off that "r."