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Washington Post Buys the #Election -- at Least on Twitter

If you want to know how serious Twitter is about making money, look no further than this: it has actually sold the #election hashtag to The Washington Post here on Election Day, as part of its "promoted trends" advertising program.

Check it out: if you log into Twitter (or look above and to your right) you'll see that, yes, the #election can be bought! So, how do these promoted trends work? Basically, Twitter picks a hashtag it thinks will garner user and advertiser interest. When advertisers buy it, their tweet -- with the bought hashtag -- lands at the top of the page of Twitter results and is flagged, like a sponsored link on Google, as being "promoted." While promoted trends aren't necessarily top ten trends, once the hashtag drops off the trending-topic radar the promoted tweet est fini unless it's built an audience on its own.

(Hashtags, for you non-Twitterati, are brief topic phrases preceded by the "#" symbol, otherwise known as a hash mark -- thus the name. They're a widely used, user-generated way of crudely indexing the Twitterverse.)

Sure, Google has been selling terms like "Election" and "Election 2010," but Twitter selling the #Election hashtag on Election Day is a sign of the new Twitter -- the one that capitalizes on the massive opportunities that lie in being a social network with a heavy search bent.

Per usual, Twitter is taking the cautious route: other election-themed hashtags, including #govote, #voted and #electionday are not for sale. And, according to a Twitter representative, the hashtag was only for sale today, and was sold in the equivalent of a closed auction. Twitter reached out to a handful of potential advertisers to see if anyone would buy it, and the WaPo did. It should also be noted that selling it today means that there was little chance of politicians buying it, if Twitter would have even let that happen.

For another look at how social media rose to the election, read my colleague Ben Popper's post on Foursquare got out the vote.