Promoted Tweets: Twitter Takes a Page from PPC’s Book

Today’s announcement of Twitter’s long-anticipated paid advertising model has the digital marketing world, um, atwitter with rumination and speculation, as we marketers tend to flock to new ad formats like a moth to flame. I’m more than happy to get my wings singed a little by joining in the fray.

Despite my avowed preference for contrarian positions, I have to concede that at first glance, there’s a lot to like about this new model. I perpetually worry that marketers are in danger of breaking faith with consumers when they apply social strategies heavy-handedly; I worried enough to write a book on the subject, and I’ve previously complained on this blog about the odious practice of paid tweeting.
Twitter’s new model not only hedges against marketers’ worst tendencies toward exploitation, but it also potentially takes the wind out of the sails of paid tweeting, allowing me to glimpse a utopian future in which Kim Kardashian is no longer paid $10,000 to pretend she just ate at Carl’s Jr. The Promoted Tweets platform accomplishes this by relying on relevance and popularity as key determiners of a Promoted Tweet’s success.
Much will be made of Twitter’s new “Resonance” algorithm, which decides whether a Promoted Tweet will continue to appear based on its implied popularity, but in my view, Twitter has simply taken the best elements of paid search’s similar approach and made them their own. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If, as I believe, social media marketing is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, Twitter’s adoption of these practices is a natural step in a long, slow march toward advertiser-consumer collaboration. At least I hope it is.
How does the Promoted Tweets platform borrow the best of PPC? Let me count the ways:
1. Real-time relevance. Paid search continues to see year-over-year double-digit growth for a very simple reason: it puts an ad message in front of the user at the most relevant moment, i.e., when the user is actively seeking related content. Out of the gate, Promoted Tweets will appear only in the context of a Twitter search, which ensures a similar relevance.
2. Popularity. Google achieved an unheralded milestone in the evolution of marketer-consumer cooperation when they introduced the Quality Score, which enlists the consumer in evaluating an ad’s worthiness. More popular ads achieve a higher ranking at a lower cost, so advertisers have a built-in incentive to behave themselves and deliver relevant content.Twitter proposes to do much the same with Promoted Tweets. Users will demonstrate popularity by responding and retweeting, and user interest will keep the tweet alive.
3. Unobtrusiveness. Display advertising first broke faith with consumers when, in an effort to stem hemorrhaging response rates, publishers made the ads more interruptive. Paid search reformed that tendency by scaling ads to a simple text-and-link format, constrained to a single piece of real estate. A Promoted Tweet offers better exposure for advertisers by placing the tweet right in the stream, but it’s clearly demarcated and constrained to the same format and length as good ol’ organic tweets.

This all sounds eminently reasonable, which, in the marketing world, is the first sign that we’re probably missing something. Twitter hints that eventually the ads would appear in users’ Twitter streams, based on the content relevance of those streams. They’re right to stay vague on those plans pending the success of the roll-out, because the whole notion is a little worrisome. Unlike a user’s search results, their Twitter stream is highly personal, comprised of individual connections they’ve made with real people. That’s a very ad-resistant type of interaction.

A couple months ago, my Twitter account – along with thousands of others – got hacked and used to tweet about herbal Viagra. Based on content relevance, will Twitter now enlist my tweet stream as a mouthpiece for erectile dysfunction treatments? Do I need to counteract this possibility by changing my username to StrongLikeBull? Probably not, but these are the worries that keep me up at night, tweeting about my awesome virility.

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