Twitter has revealed it will be placing its 'Promoted Tweets' in user's timelines as well as in its search function.
At first, only users of HootSuite will see the advertisements (roughly one million of Twitter's 175 million users, according to TechCrunch). The corporate agencies involved thus far are Virgin, Starbucks and Red Bull. Fear not, marketing junkies: Twitter intends on throwing Promoted Tweets in the faces of all its users, including other mobile apps and Twitter.com.
In a carefully worded blog, Matt Graves, Twitter's communications director, attempted to soften the invasion of Promoted Tweets by claiming the ads would only be displayed in the timeline "when they are relevant". So if you like coffee, you'll see Starbucks ads.
The micro-blogging service first announced in April it planned to roll out adverts on the service. However., it said they would initially only appear as the top result when web users search for words and topics on the site.
This campaign will annoy users, choke already-spam-muddled user timelines - and make Twitter a lot of money. But at what cost? Your enjoyment, that's what.
How will it work?
As I mentioned, only HootSuite users - but not all - will see Promoted Tweets infecting their timelines at first. Twitter doesn't detail which HootSuite users will see what, how often, or where - Graves merely says: "Not all HootSuite users will see Promoted Tweets and those who do may see different Promoted Tweets in different places in their timeline".
Vague enough for you? It gets cloudier. The selection of these advertisements, according to Twitter's blog, is based on the use of "several signals to determine a Promoted Tweet's relevance to a user, including the public list of whom they follow".
Notice the word including. That means there will be other 'signals' determining the product, placement, and user. But we don't know what these signals are, how they will function, and how many users they will affect.
AdAge also points out the hypocrisy of Twitter's actions: "Twitter banned third-party clients from injecting any kind of paid tweets into a user's timeline in May, stating on the company's blog that 'third-party ad networks are not necessarily looking to preserve the unique user experience Twitter has created.'"
So third-parties can't destroy Twitter's unique user experience ... but Twitter can, and will, right now.
The expected reaction
Think Twitter's early adopters and purists will take this marketing blitz in stride? Think again.
"Social media enthusiasts will blast Twitter for selling out their streams," Jason Falls, a leading social media marketing consultant at socialmediaexplorer.com, told ReadWriteWeb. "There will be calls to boycott and the like. 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."
But will Twitter 'pull a Google' and surrender to saber-rattling public outcries? Twitter's chief executive, Dick Costolo, told Ad Age in April that testing would continue until perfection: "Is it great in search and horrible in the timeline? We are going to test and test and test."
Still, I don't think a quiet withdrawal is likely, as Twitter has defended its advertisements in the past as 'organic' - a word, when associated with marketing, that makes me feel nauseous.
"There is not a single 'ad' in our Promoted Tweets platform that isn't already an organic part of Twitter," Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said in an April 2010 blog announcing Promoted Tweets. Costolo also dropped the o-bomb to Venturebeat: "What [Twitter is] trying to say [is], 'This is organic content that people like.' How can we take this thing that's organic and enhance a company's ability to communicate with their customers?"
The question here isn't whether Twitterati will rebel; it's how thunderous they'll be.