Promoted Tweets: A Necessary Evil

Twitter’s much anticipated advertising platform launched yesterday. The analysis has been measured but mostly leans positive…I suspect that in most cases, industry watchers know that it’s crazy to bet against Twitter. (Of course.) But my friends at Forrester, Edelman, and Altimeter don’t seem to be “making the call,” so I’ll go ahead and say it: marketers should wait and watch before participating in promoted tweets. Why? Keep reading.

Over a decade ago, I read an interview featuring Tim Koogle at Yahoo!, discussing the site’s advertising model. He said something along the lines of: we place the ads in a consistent place on each page, in a consistent size, so users know what do expect. You know what? That made the ads easier to ignore. Guess what? Promoted Tweets occupy a consistent, easily ignored position on a search page.

A few key reasons to support a bearish position on Promoted Tweets:

  • Advertising on social networks has a poor track record. Remember Beacon? Google display ads on MySpace? Microsoft ads on Facebook?
  • Consumers love to hate advertising. Content and service providers will never be able to support their businesses based on consumer payments alone – they require commercial subsidization. Watch for clutter, irrelevance, and interruption to take root.
  • Return on investment. Are Promoted Tweets really the next best place to invest your advertising budget? If you haven’t exhausted the potential of measurable initiatives like search and email marketing, why bother with an experiment?

Can anyone blame Twitter for monetizing the platform? Of course not – they’ve got to perform up to expectations for the hundreds of millions of dollars invested. But I think the smart marketers will watch bleeding edge brands run their experiments now and learn from the successes and failures. For Twitter, Promoted Tweets are a necessary evil to turn this question mark into a star (think growth-share matrix).

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  1. I’m not sure how much Twitter plans to charge for these ads, but I also wonder if they will run into a problem of inventory. I don’t see how promoted tweets could make up a significant portion of their revenue stream with just one potential ad slot above searches. I think this has to be a piece of the revenue puzzle, not the whole thing.

  2. Hey Peter, I’d like to respectfully disagree that social ads don’t work. Traditional approaches to ads on social platforms don’t work, but we have had enormous success helping advertisers start conversations via paid social media (with results ranging from 10 to 40x the performance of traditional display). I’d also argue that experimentation is critical, since last time I checked, most advertisers were increasingly unhappy with the results of their traditional media buy metrics. Here’s my take on Promoted Tweets, FWIW.

  3. We’ve been using advertising on social networks for our B2B network technology company for two years with great success and I can’t wait to try Promoted Tweets. The key, as with any communication or marketing campaign, is to have something worthy of people’s attention. The platform itself is only the delivery mechanism. I say experiment and find out what works.

  4. Colin, you’re right on – from what I understand, the next phase is promoted tweets being inserted into a user’s flow whether or not you follow the brand, much like ads within RSS feeds. Brands will determine how to balance paid vs. earned media on the platform, but it will take time and the model needs to mature.

  5. Good post Maggie – definitely worth the read. For the record, I think we’re in agreement on the failure of traditional display on social networks. Perhaps “PT” go a step further into contextual targeting, but that’s also less effective than behavioral and social influence targeting, leaving room for program improvement. We’ll all see what’s next…

  6. Virgin America Airline’s test next week of the launch of a new route, using only Twitter Promoted Tweets to promote it, will be interesting. I’m betting it will work.

  7. Steve, what do you mean when you comment that “it will work?” Sure, they’ll post ads. But do you think PTs alone will make or break the success of the new route?

  8. On the point “consumers love to hate advertising” while I agree, what I think it really means is consumers love to hate bad advertising. As much as we all whine and complain about ads, chances are when you see a very relevant ad served at just the right time, most of us will click on it with appreciation.

    And I say this as someone who’s always worked for startups, and very rarely ever paid for ads…

    So my point is, promoted tweets can be successful as advertising if they’re relevant and not too intrusive to users. I like how they’ve sort of followed Google’s model (i.e. in search results to start) A smart move.

  9. Perhaps you should throw edits in your colleague’s direction then?

    Good food for thought – I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that this experiment will abort, then Twitter will use Google or Microsoft’s ad platform (if they’re not already). Otherwise, what becomes of the much ballyhooed real-time integration of tweets into Google and Bing search results? The only reason those happened was to monetize search traffic and unlikely that those companies would allow direct competition with their own ads.

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