Twitter Brings Ads to the Timeline: How Will the Twitterati React?

Twitter has tried a number of different methods over the past six months to monetize its millions of users. From promoted trends and tweets to promoted accounts, the company has offered advertisers space on the periphery of its service, but none that went to the core – a user’s timeline of tweets.

Starting today, Twitter will begin inserting advertisements into the streams of independent Twitter client Hootesuite’s users, going directly against what it prohibited for third-party advertisers last May.

Allen Stern with CenterNetworks first wrote about the inline ads last Friday, noting that they would be different from other Twitter ads, as they would be in the stream as opposed to on the sidebar or in search results. According to Edmund Lee of Ad Age, the service will begin with Virgin, Starbucks and Red Bull and will be limited to HootSuite users. Hootsuite has more than 900,000 users and will get a cut of the ad revenue. While Twitter declined to comment for Lee’s story, we were told a blog post on the ads would be forthcoming at noon PST. (And here is Twitter’s blog post on the topic.)

Ads Change Things, For Some People

The big question, of course, is how will everyone react to seeing ads included directly in their timeline? Jason Falls, a leading social media marketing consultant at socialmediaexplorer.com, says that we’ll likely see two separate reactions – one from the social media purists and one from the rest of the world.

Falls says that the purists are likely to come out of the gate complaining.

“Social media enthusiasts will blast Twitter for selling out their streams. There will be calls to boycott and the like,” said Falls. “At best, you’ll have many complaining that Twitter sealed off third-party ad networks disingenuously and is now preserving the unique experience Twitter created to make a buck.”

Anil Dash, blogging forefather and Director of public sector technology think tank ExpertLabs, says that whenever you introduce a change, there will be complaints, but that when that change comes in the form of “interruptive advertising” the number of complaints will increase “by orders of magnitude”.

“Lots of the celebs and companies people follow are ‘brands’ anyway, and a huge number of Twitter users accept default suggested Tweeters (like me) as an acceptable level of noise in their experience amidst the people they’ve chosen to follow.” -Anil Dash, @anildash

“The key question is how [Twitter] handles the response, whether they actually iterate and listen, and whether people’s behaviors on Twitter are welcoming of brands in general,” said Dash. “Lots of the celebs and companies people follow are ‘brands’ anyway, and a huge number of Twitter users accept default suggested Tweeters (like me) as an acceptable level of noise in their experience amidst the people they’ve chosen to follow.”

Fall echoed Dash’s sentiment that the general Twitter populace may be accustomed to advertising to a point where it will be quickly accepted.

“The rest of the world … the one the echo chamber always forgets about … is the one that is used to advertising,” said Fall. “They either understand that Twitter has to make money or doesn’t really care if they’re interrupted from time to time in order to use a service for free. They’ll shrug their shoulders at it, click on the relevant ads that pop up from time to time and life will go on without much brouhaha.”

Backlash is Possible

Kevin Marshall, a developer with knowabout.it, said that as a user, advertisements may be simple to accept, but as a developer it could cause some backlash.

“As a developer of a handful of services on top of Twitter, I’m a little less excited simply because it adds more clutter to a user’s stream and may be harder to explain,” said Marshall. “They will likely complain/think I’m injecting those ads when in fact it’s actually Twitter doing it.”

“There is so much junk on Twitter right now and the noise level has gotten so loud it is getting more and more difficult to navigate and find meaning…” – Marianne Richmond, @marianne

Marianne Richmond, social media marketing consultant to companies including Purina and HJ Heinz, feels that the inline tweets are going to be problematic for everyone, purists and users alike.

“I think they would be better off going to a paid model of some sort, personally…there is so much junk on Twitter right now and the noise level has gotten so loud it is getting more and more difficult to navigate and find meaning,” said Richmond. “I think [in stream advertising] will cause problems…confusion and resentment and so much more.”

For now, the inline Tweets will be restricted to HootSuite users as Twitter and its advertisers gauge reactions, but what do you think? Will inline ads be an unacceptable prospect for the Twitterati? Or, as long as they are easily identifiable and separate from other content will they become the new norm?

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