Virgin America will be one of the major consumer brands to trial the long awaited advertising platform from Twitter, known as Promoted Tweets.
In what will probably be the hot story of the week in social media and tech circles as Twitter founder and CEO Evan Williams and chief operating officer Dick Costolo officially unveil the ad platform at the Chirp Twitter developer event in San Francisco.
Promoted Tweets is Twitter's first proper foray into the advertising marketplace and follows years of speculation as to how the company will make money and pay back some of the $160 million in funding so far.
The company's only existing major commercial agreements come courtesy of the live search deals with Google, Bing and Yahoo, all of which were signed in 2009.
So what about the new ad platform?
Co-founder Biz Stone says the first phase of Promoted Tweets will see messages already in the Twitter ecosystem (in other words: existing tweets) displayed at the top of Twitter Search results but only if they match relevant keywords.
Here is an example from Starbucks, one of the other companies revealed by Twitter to included in the pilot (others include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull and Sony Pictures).
[caption id="attachment_14079" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Pic from AdAge"]
Each message - similar to PPC ads on Google et al - will have signage to indicate that it is a paid-for message.
Messages will not be static creative modules - every tweet will have the usual Twitter functionality included, such as Retweet and @reply.
Stone says on the Twitter blog:
"We strongly believe that Promoted Tweets should be useful to you. We’ll attempt to measure whether the Tweets resonate with users and stop showing Promoted Tweets that don’t resonate."
One of the ideas behind the project (apart from a way to make some money for Twitter) is to allow brands to chime in on the Twitter conversation around particular topics.
For example, if users are discussing holiday breaks around the a particular period of the year, Virgin America might serve a tweet promoting fares across the country.
This sounds simple in some respects, but there are two major factors at play here:
- Do users want that apparent intrusion if they are following a topic in Twitter Search? [NB: Twitter says it hopes to included the ad functionality to desktop clients such as Tweetdeck and Tweetie at a later date]
- What kind of pressure does this put on the advertiser to make sure their existing tweets are always have the potential to be relevant.
Take a snapshot of VirginAmerica's recent run of tweets and ponder how many of them might be useful to other users in Twitter Search?
What this means is that brands on the Promoted Tweets service that previously used Twitter as a communication platform with customers may be forced to rein in that style in favour of more marketing-led messages to populate the system with relevant Tweets, perhaps putting their number of existing followers at risk.