Many social networks that sprang up during the social media boom around two years ago seemed unsustainable with no viable business model in place to support them, Twitter was no exception. The difference with Twitter was that it was the original short status network (of which there were many imitators) and consequently, because to higher user numbers, seemed 'too big to fail'. Almost like the banks, Twitter was constantly bailed out with venture capital investment.
Many pondered how Twitter would raise it's own money - myself included. Ideas were proposed for advertising, either on the site or in-stream targeted using information from those you follow, and I even suggested the idea of charging for full, unrestricted API while throttling those not paying for it.
It now transpires that Twitter have decided that the in-stream tactic is the way to go with "promoted tweets" - not directly advertising but "ordinary Tweets that businesses and organizations want to highlight to a wider group of users".
Promoted tweets will act just like any other (normal functionality will be available such as replying, retweeting etc.) and will initially slot straight in at the top of a search for a related topic and in the timeline of those following the particular brand. They will merely indicate (quite evidently) that they are promoted by the business and, of course, be paid for.
It is interesting to note that Twitter expects promoted Tweets to be 'useful' - their gauge of this will be if they are shown to resonate with their intended audience, presumably by that audience replying or tweeting. Those tweets that don't 'resonate' will no longer be shown. The onus, therefore, is firmly on the business to ensure that their promoted tweets are of good quality.
It is unusual for an advertising platform to behave in such a way - normally cash is king - but it is nice to see Twitter having a say in quality and suitability albeit, I would presume, automatically if the tweet doesn't get the desired response.
Once Twitter have a better idea of the value of promoted tweets then there are plans for them to be opened up to external clients and inserted into peoples timelines when relevant but, is this a viable model? Initially, when promoted tweets are only presented by search and the specific timelines of those following that brand, how many impressions will they receive and will they achieve the desired results in terms of resonance?
When displaying tweets in a timeline there is a big danger of them being missed especially if the person is following a lot of people. Are they, then, to be inserted at the top of peoples timelines to ensure thy are seen? Twitter are obviously intending that promote tweets should not be an annoyance but are they also intending for them not to be an intrusion? If so, this flies completely in the face of what advertising is normally all about; it is designed to be in your face in the hope that the message sticks and, subsequently, influences your behaviour.
Is it enough?
Will this approach provide a decent return on investment and will it even resonate with potential advertisers? I have my doubts but many currently consider anything to do with social media akin to the Elysian Fields. A lot is riding on the results of the initial tests with the handful of advertising partners putting themselves forward as guinea pigs.
Only time will tell.