Advertising on Twitter continues to cause much debate, especially now the service is to target users by their interests. There are calls in some quarters for a freemium account model so that those who want to can pay not to be targeted but is this a viable option?
Employing our interest graph rather than our social graph is something that I've been talking about for a while and we are seeing shifts in this direction from across the social web.
Twitter's move to use its interest graph to target users for advertising is a long time coming but Twitter had to ensure it had sufficient data and a robust enough graph before it could reasonably expect advertisers to cough up their money on unproven technology.
It remains to be seen whether Twitter will enhance the user experience with the interest graph - it would make a lot of sense to do so as I have been saying for quite some time.
We have already seen the initial shoots of growth in this area (NASCAR, #discover to a degree) but there is a long way to go.
Is Freemium an option?
Twitter is criticised for going the advertising route with some saying they would be happy to pay a subscription to avoid the ads but Is this viable? While it may work in certain circumstances (mobile apps for example, but they are pulling from a central ad system) I don't believe it would on Twitter.
Each user that pays a subscription to Twitter reduces the value of advertising due to reduced impressions and resultant click-throughs. Will advertisers want to take the risk of targeting a smaller user base?
For Twitter itself the key question would be "do the subscription fees generated offset the drop in advertising revenue?"
Out of the millions of users on Twitter, how many are likely to be online during a campaign? How many of those would be willing to pay a subscription? How many of those would have been successfully targeted based on their interests and, finally, how many of those would actually interact with a promoted Tweet in some way? It's like a social Drake equation to calculate potential loss.
If the total number of subscribers is a very small percentage then, perhaps, Twitter could afford to offer a Freemium model but as the number of subscribers increases I feel it would lose its viability.
Reducing the number of potential click-throughs by enabling an ad-free option could have deeper implications for the non-subscribers.
I have considered previously the possibility of promoted tweets being expanded by default to ensure that they stand out in our busy streams. In a relatively small survey most said that they would not be impressed by this but, as Twitter is now such a part of our lives, they would tolerate it.
Some users, however, responded that any such attempt by the network to force content upon them in this way would cause them to leave the service so this is another potential area of loss for both advertisers and Twitter itself.
It makes me wonder what other implications a freemium model might have for those who don't want to pay.
Lead image from Tsahi Levent-Levi.