Twitter unveils ad system

Paid tweets to appear in search results

Twitter finally took the wraps off its long-awaited advertising system, borrowing ideas from companies already matching advertisers with tweets.

Twitter is calling its system Promoted Tweets. The initiative allows advertisers like Best Buy and Virgin Airlines to buy their way into the stream of short-message updates Twitter users consume. Promoted Tweets will first appear in related search results. Ultimately, Twitter plans to inject them into the stream directly, matching a brand's Promoted Tweet with users that fit geographic or interest-based criteria. Best Buy, for instance, could target people who follow others with tech interests.

The move borrows heavily from approaches already in the Twitter ecosystem.

In the absence of a Twitter ad system, networks have popped up to provide those services. 140 Proof matches brand ads with users' interests, locations and content by working directly with third-party developers. Example: OneRiot offers Twitter-search ads based on keywords.

"Over the years, we've resisted introducing a traditional Web advertising model because we wanted to optimize for value before profit," Twitter stated in a blog post. "The open exchange of information creates opportunities for individuals, organizations, and businesses alike. We recognized value in this exchange and planned to amplify it in a meaningful and relevant manner."

Twitter's blog post includes a Q&A about the ad system.

According to the New York Times, Twitter plans to measure the performance of campaigns, which will be sold on a CPM basis, based on their "resonance." That includes impressions, clicks on links, retweets and other engagement variables.

Twitter sees the system as a way for advertisers to make sure an important message -- such as time-sensitive promotions, for example -- do not get lost in the stream of updates. Companies caught in controversy would be able to use Promoted Tweets to get their message out when users search for their brand.

The system will need to win over users to the idea of brands injecting themselves into social media conversations, a tricky proposition that has bedeviled many social networks. Twitter is trying to strike a balance between making Promoted Tweets part of the stream of content while not tricking users. It said the brand messages will be "clearly labeled" as ads.

It could also further alienate developers, following Twitter investor Fred Wilson's broadside last week that Twitter should focus on innovating its overall platform rather than filling holes in the business. Twitter late last week acquired popular tweet reader Tweetie, putting it in competition with several third-party developers. With the ad system, Twitter would appear to compete with Twitter ad networks. It also raises the question of ad overload, since many Twitter-reading clients already show ads. Twitter plans to share revenue generated from ads that appear on third-party clients with the developers.

Twitter stressed that it doesn't see the Promoted Tweets as ads per se, since they are all regular Twitter messages. Of course, most brands publish Tweets that are purely self-promotional and are hard to distinguish from ad messages.

"This is distinct from both traditional search advertising and more recent social advertising," Twitter posted. "Promoted Tweets will also be timely. Like any other Tweet, the connection between you and a Promoted Tweet in real time provides a powerful means of delivering information relevant to you at the moment."
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