In the four years of its existence, Twitter has been better known for its rapid growth and adoption amongst celebrities rather than for its business success. Talk about revenue models and you’ll be greeted with radio silence. Someone even made a tongue-in-cheek remark that the $170 million that they raised through venture capitalists was their revenue model!
When Twitter made announcement of its Promoted Tweets concept, it had a semblance of a revenue model. Its earlier revenue model was based on selling its content to search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! to display real-time search results. Thankfully, Twitter stayed away from plain vanilla banner advertising or installing Google Adwords.
Now, let us get back to Promoted Tweets. What is it? It’s a new advertising programme that will show contextually-relevant tweets based on the search keywords in Twitter’s search page. Twitter will test run this new advertising programme in its search page and based on the response, will move this to user’s regular tweet streams. As an extension, it will also start syndicating Promoted Tweets to Twitter clients like TweetDeck, Twhirl and TwitterBerry.
This looks suspiciously close to Google’s super successful contextual advertising model, AdSense. Where they differ from Google’s AdSense is that instead of showing ‘ads’, they will be showing a tweet from the advertiser. These tweets will not be separated out in a different section the way Google does it for sponsored search results on the right side of the page. Instead, the Twitter Promoted Tweets will be placed on top of the search results. A user will know it’s a paid tweet when he moves the mouse over the tweet to reveal a yellow background.
I would have preferred a better distinction of the Promoted Tweets without any user intervention. Promoted Tweets don’t yet appear for Indian users and so, I can’t verify if they really differentiate paid tweets from the natural search results by using the word ‘promoted’. The good thing, though, is that Twitter has promised that they will display only one promoted tweet for a particular search result. The promoted tweets will behave just like a normal tweet. Meaning that the tweet can be replied to, retweeted or bookmarked.
So, how does the Promoted Tweet work? Advertisers will bid for keywords to have their tweets appear on the search results, much like how Google AdSense works. The higher an advertiser pays for a particular keyword, the greater are the chances of its tweets appearing on search results.
What I really like about this model is a system Twitter has introduced called the Resonance Score. Twitter considers nine factors that are based on how effective the tweet behaves with respect to engagement with users. This means that if a particular promoted tweet does not get retweeted or bookmarked enough, it will slowly get pushed out of the system. In other words, if the tweet is not popular, it will be killed. This forces the advertiser not to treat the tweets lightly. Just because they have paid for it does not mean they can publish whatever advertising message they want to. This forces them to be creative.
Not surprisingly, the companies that have proactively been using Twitter from the beginning are the ones who are the first to try out the Promoted Tweets concept. The companies that are trying out are Sony Pictures, Virgin America, Starbucks, Red Bull and Best Buy. I have not heard of any Indian businesses that have tried it yet, but I won’t be surprised if the first few companies are FastTrack, Cleartrip and Club Mahindra.
There are some detractors for this new medium, though. Questions are raised on the relevance of the promoted tweets idea. If a company is already being very active on Twitter, building up a healthy number of followers and engaging in conversation with them, why should it pay extra to send out the same message? The answer may lie in the fact that for any keyword, there is bound to be a lot of noise. For example, if a person were to search for ‘Maruti Suzuki’, the search result will have tweets from users in addition to those from Maruti Suzuki. By paying for Promoted Tweets, Twitter will push the Maruti’s tweets on top of the search results.
I am glad that Twitter is trying out this model to get in revenues. I am always wary of companies that give out free stuff for too long. Every company needs revenues to survive, let alone succeed. I am fine with dealing with a few ads as long as they are not very intrusive. I am fairly confident that this will be the same sentiment with other users as well. Look at Google. We still use it even with the advent of sponsored search results. As long as the ads are not intrusive and the company is transparent in letting us know which ones are paid for ads, we will be fine.
To me, the success of Promoted Tweets lies on how targeted the message is. If Twitter takes the effort to find out who I am, what my interest areas are, who are my friends are and what am I tweeting on and then shows relevant promoted tweets, the chances of it succeeding is much higher. Knowing Twitter team’s creativity, their strong focus on users and their ever-growing reach and popularity, I am confident that Promoted Tweets will be a success.