When Twitter announced it was building and buying its own clients, it seemed fairly clear that the purpose was to own the user experience, and although Ev Williams couched the announcement as driven by concern for confused users (see Twitter Raising The Infrastructure: App Builders Better Run For The Ultrastructure) the reality is much more mercantile: they are going to be serving up ads.
The program is being unveiled today, timed with the Chirp developer conference.
It appears that there two parts to the program.
The search part — to be rolled out first — will serve up ads to users based on the keywords they are using in search queries. This is pretty standard fare for those of us weaned on ads in Google search results.
Biz Stone writes at the Twitter blog:
Q: What are you launching? What are Promoted Tweets?
A: We are launching the first phase of our Promoted Tweets platform with a handful of innovative advertising partners that include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks, and Virgin America — with more to come. Promoted Tweets are ordinary Tweets that businesses and organizations want to highlight to a wider group of users.
Q. What will users see?
A. You will start to see Tweets promoted by our partner advertisers called out at the top of some Twitter.com 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.
Q. You said, “first phase”; what else do you have planned?
A. Before we roll out more phases, we want to get a better understanding of the resonance of Promoted Tweets, user experience and advertiser value. Once this is done, we plan to allow Promoted Tweets to be shown by Twitter clients and other ecosystem partners and to expand beyond Twitter search, including displaying relevant Promoted Tweets in your timelines in a way that is useful to you.
Q: Is this what you said we would love and would be awesome?
A: While we are excited about the platform in general, there are several specific aspects of the launch that we are delighted to highlight. Since all Promoted Tweets are organic Tweets, there is not a single “ad” in our Promoted Tweets platform that isn’t already an organic part of Twitter. This is distinct from both traditional search advertising and more recent social advertising. Promoted Tweets will also be timely. Like any other Tweet, the connection between you and a Promoted Tweet in real-time provides a powerful means of delivering information relevant to you at the moment.
There is one big difference between a Promoted Tweet and a regular Tweet. Promoted Tweets must meet a higher bar—they must resonate with users. That means if users don’t interact with a Promoted Tweet to allow us to know that the Promoted Tweet is resonating with them, such as replying to it, favoriting it, or Retweeting it, the Promoted Tweet will disappear.
Q. Anything else to say?
A. This is a new thing and we expect to iterate to make it better. We’re really excited to get it out to you and look forward to getting your feedback.
Note that Biz doesn’t really get into the later phases planned, because what’s coming is likely to be more controversial — and hard to get right. Twitter is proposing to insert other ads into the stream as ‘promoted tweets’. Twitter has decided that this can be useful and won’t be annoying to users. But this means that we will be getting ads — ‘sponsored tweets’ — from twitter accounts we don’t follow. This is a big change.
Will I get ads from companies that I explicitly block? I presume they will uphold that aspect of the social contract. But can users opt-out? Can I block all advertising and pay a fee? The NYTimes pieceby Claire Cain Miller does not touch on this issue.
Biz says that ads that are not treated like a first class tweet — being replied to, favorited, retweeted, etc. — the ad will ‘disappear’. So if advertisers act like spammers instead of twitterers will they be disappeared, too?
According to the Miller, Twitter will be using a metric called ‘resonance’ to direct ads:
Twitter will measure what it calls resonance, which takes into account nine factors, including the number of people who saw the post, the number of people who replied to it or passed it on to their followers, and the number of people who clicked on links. If a post does not reach a certain resonance score, Twitter will no longer show it as a promoted post. That means that the company will not have to pay for it, and users will not see ads they do not find useful, Mr. Costolo said.
That’s a tall order.
Other have been quick to notice this radical reaarangement of the working principles of the Twittersphere. John Battelle makes it sound like a battle cry when he writes “Twitter’s new ad platform will mark the first time, ever, that users of the service will see a tweet from someone they have not explicitly decided to follow” although he softens later in his piece.
Otherwise, no great howls yet. Of course, we aren’t getting spammed yet, either.