Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Twitter Pumps Up Its Ads Today With “Promoted Tweets to Followers”

Twitter’s slow-moving ad business takes another step forward today: Sources tell me that the company will formally launch its new “Promoted Tweets To Followers” ad plan.

What that means to advertisers: They’ll now have an improved chance to get their messages directly in front of some users, by inserting ads directly into their main “timelines.”

What that means to users: Depends. Marketers will only be able to deliver the ads — which will use the “Promoted Tweet” format the company rolled out more than a year ago — to users who already follow them on the service. And they’ll only appear on Twitter’s main Twitter.com site.

So if you don’t follow any brands/marketers/companies on Twitter, you won’t see the ads. And if you’re checking Twitter on your iPhone, or via clients like TweetDeck, you won’t see them there, either.

Here’s how Twitter described it to advertisers:

UPDATE: Here’s Twitter’s blog post about the new ads — or, if you prefer, new ad delivery system.

One important note is that even this program can’t guarantee that an advertiser’s message will reach their followers. That’s because Twitter will only show a certain number of Promoted Tweets using this system, and Twitter will use a bid/exchange system on the back-end, which incorporates both pricing and “relevance” into picking a winner.

As I noted earlier this month, delivering ads into users’s main timelines has been on Twitter’s agenda since April 2010. But this move doesn’t get them all the way there. Eventually, CEO Dick Costolo and company want to deliver ads to users who aren’t following particular companies by using targeting that finds likely recipients.

That is, Twitter wants a way for Starbucks to reach me even if I don’t follow the company, or any other coffee-related companies on the service. You know — just like lots of Web advertising works (or is supposed to work).

The fact that the company has been slow to do that is telling, I think — it shows that they’re quite content to move slowly on ads, despite the braying of outsiders (sometimes including me). Then again, when they’ve got outside investors lining up to spend $800 million on a $8 billion round, that confidence is a little easier to come by.

This isn’t the equivalent of Google’s AdWords, which was Twitter’s original intention when it started its ad platform a year ago. But Twitter may not need that kind of magic bullet to make this thing work — Facebook hasn’t found one, and things are working out okay over there.


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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