Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Twitter's Ad Team Runs Into the Learning Curve, and Promoted Tweets Take a Step Back

Another sign that Twitter’s advertising plans are very much a work in progress: The company is playing down Promoted Tweets, the first ad units it introduced last year.

Instead, Dick Costolo’s sales force is telling ad buyers that if they want to buy Promoted Tweets–ads designed to run inside users’ Twitterstreams–they should also buy either Promoted Trends or Promoted Accounts–two other ad products Twitter rolled out last year.

This is probably a temporary state of affairs. But it illustrates why Twitter’s ad products are still in the experimental phase.

Promoted Tweets were initially pitched as something akin to Google’s Ad Words, and tied to search keywords. The ads, which are tweets themselves, show up as search results alongside non-sponsored tweets.

The problem is that Twitter search doesn’t work anything like Google search. And many of the “search queries” that Twitter has boasted about in the past are simply auto-refreshing columns in apps like Tweetdeck.

Short version: Twitter doesn’t have enough search inventory for specific terms to accommodate Promoted Tweets. “It’s a powerful ad, but it doesn’t scale,” says one ad buyer.

Buying a “Promoted Trend” helps solve the problem, temporarily, since users who click on the trend end up creating a search query where the Promoted Tweet can show up. (Click on today’s “Hall Pass” Promoted Trend and you’ll see a Promoted Tweet pushing the new movie.)

I’m not clear how bundling Promoted Tweets and Accounts helps marketers, though Twitter’s instructional video for ad buyers promises that buying them in tandem will “turbocharge” results.

The bundle does help Twitter, because the inventory for Promoted Accounts is much deeper. Buyers pay for every follower they sign on to their account, and the only real limit there is the size of Twitter’s user base.

Twitter declined to comment.

As I noted last week, Twitter hopes to have a long-term solution to its inventory problem this spring, when it starts running Promoted Tweets in users’ main “timelines” on That should give the company a huge swath of real estate to sell.

And the flip side of this story is that Promoted Trends and Accounts, two products Twitter rolled out last year with much less fanfare, seem to be selling quite nicely for the company. Which is the nature of start-ups: Sometimes the thing you’re counting on doesn’t come through. And sometimes the thing you weren’t counting on turns into a pleasant surprise.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work