Tweeters to Twitter: Keep It Simple

Twitter logo over a pile of cash.
How will Twitter ever make money off of all that daily Internet traffic it generates? There's finally an answer to that perennial question (and a thankful end to "The Twitter Business Model Watch," has Marc Slocum cheekily noted. Earlier today, the company announced a plan to monetize traffic through what it calls "promoted Tweets."

From the Twitter blog:

"You will start to see Tweets promoted by our partner advertisers called out at the top of some search results pages. We strongly believe that Promoted Tweets should be useful to you. We'll attempt to measure whether the Tweets resonate with users and stop showing Promoted Tweets that don't resonate. 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. 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."

The ads, which resemble run-of-the-mill Tweets, are found at the top of a list of keywords that advertisers buy to link to their advertisements. The advertisers pay on the old CPM model widely used by other media where they get charged on a cost-per-thousand basis (though Twitter management is still investigating other payment ideas.) With more than 22 million unique visitors in March, according to market researcher ComScore, advertisers are likely to jump at the chance to get their advertising messages in front of all those people.

But the initial byword for Twitter: Tread lightly.

Writing at ZDNet, Sam Diaz was representative of the initial reaction among many in the tech cognoscenti, who said the plan have a reasonably good chance of success - albeit with certain qualifications.

"That depends on the users and whether they'll interact with (the ads)," Diaz wrote, "The tweets would have to be compelling enough for a user like me to engage with them. I sift through hundreds - thousands? - of tweets per day and I honestly just skim past a lot of them. But when I do come across something interesting, I click links and retweet just like everyone else."

There also are concerns about the inclusion of sponsored Tweets in a stream of Twitter posts, "based on how relevant they might be to a particular user," as the company described it. This marks a sharp departure from previous practice. As John Battelle noted, the new ad platform heralds a change in the way users have interacted with Twitter. "This marks the first time, ever, that users of the service will see a tweet from someone they have not explicitly decided to follow."

In an interview with Advertising Age, COO Dick Costolo acknowledged the challenge of getting it right and said Twitter planned to take its time with the rollout. "We are not in a rush to make a certain amount of money this year," he said. "We want to get this right. We don't want to force a model on people that is based on incorrect hypotheses."

Other Coverage

Twitter Blog
Marketing Pilgrim

Still, there seems general acceptance of the idea that this was an inevitable step. Handled carefully, the company should be able to navigate past the early criticism from users unhappy about the intrusion of
commerce into what had been an unfettered cyber play land.

Indeed, an early (and entirely unscientific) check of the "Twitterati" at Twitter Sentiment found that nearly three quarters of respondents said they were on board with the plan. "Every business has to have a revenue model, tweeted Kyle Mowery. His advice: "Keep it minimal."

Preferably in 140 characters or less, one supposes.