Twitter Ads: Only Pay Attention to Them When You Want To

Last Updated Apr 14, 2010 11:50 AM EDT

So after two years of waiting, this is all Twitter's ad model is? Tweets highlighted -- like Google's sponsored links -- as promotions that quietly enter the tweetstream? (See example at right.)

That's it?

That's great! I mean it.

Twitter's ad model, called "Promoted Tweets" isn't rocket science; it's basically

GoogleAds for the social media age. And while I'm not at all sure they will be as successful as those have been, they do the one fundamental thing they needed to do -- not disrupt the Twitter experience.

So, how do they work? I'll let the Twitter Blog explain:

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.
Further, temporarily, Promoted Tweets will only turn up when a person searches for a certain keyword, Google-like, keeping them out of the stream of tweets most of us see, and putting them in a context that is somewhat like Google. The premise of Google, of course, is that people like seeing ads about things they are already searching for. I can definitely see Twitter becoming a place to go for that McDonald's promo when you're on the way out the door with the kids looking for a quick lunch on a Saturday. (Somehow, even though Google has entered the real-time search game, it's not my first association when it comes to real-time. Perhaps I'm not alone.)

Second, as it is with Google's search algorithm, the power of the people determines what happens to a "Promoted Tweet." If it is not shared, or replied to, or fails to get traction in some other tweetable way, it disappears from Twitter. In fact, it's an even more ruthless way of weeding out ads that stink than Google is. Think of it -- on Google, the worst that can happen to a bad ad is that no one clicks on it; on Twitter, the worst thing that can happen is -- Poof! -- the ad vanishes. We should have thought of that years ago!

The program is expected to expand from here, with "Promoted Tweets" eventually entering the tweetstream in ways that Twitter promises will be relevant to users; they will also eventually be available for display on the many Twitter clients that actually make up the vast majority of the service's traffic. While that will no doubt make them more obtrusive than they are right now, the road map thus far demonstrates that Twitter is bending over backward to emulate Google, by building an ad experience that you only notice when you want to. And that's a good thing.