Twitter has finally answered a big piece of the long running question of how it plans to make money. At Ad Age’s Digital Conference in New York, the company revealed “Promoted Tweets,” an advertising system that will allow businesses to have their tweets highlighted in search results, and eventually, in the Twitter stream and third-party applications.
The platform is currently being piloted by a number of big brands – it’s not yet self-serve like Google AdWords or Facebook’s advertising offerings. Nonetheless, there’s much to be excited about, and looking at Promoted Tweets in light of other recent developments at Twitter, there’s a ton of potential for what the platform could one day mean for small businesses.
What It Is
Thousands of companies – large and small – are already on Twitter. Promoted Tweets introduces a way for these businesses to gain extra exposure for their messages. For example, if you own a coffee shop, when a user searches for “coffee” on Twitter, you’ll conceivably be able to have a tweet from your business sit atop the results.
However, these ads shouldn’t be thought of like traditional forms of online advertising, like a banner or even a text link in search, but rather an extension of what you’re already doing on Twitter. Promoted Tweets will sink or swim – quite literally – based on the response they get from users.
In a system that Twitter is calling “resonance,” ads will be judged based on how users engage with them, through actions like replies, retweets and clicks. If an ad doesn’t get enough engagement, it will be removed from the system.
The key to making effective use of Promoted Tweets, then, will be to create the same type of engaging messages you already do organically on your account, investing some money into the system when you have a particular tweet that you’d like to give an extra push.
Currently, big global brands like Best Buy, Starbucks and JetBlue are testing Promoted Tweets. However, for the platform to be useful to small businesses – especially those that are primarily brick-and-mortar – you’ll need the ability to target Promoted Tweets based on location. While Twitter hasn’t yet announced this capability, there’s reason to believe it will eventually be part of the platform.
Twitter has already made its “trending topics” feature location-based, so you can see what people in your city are talking about. The microblogging service now also lets users attach their location to every tweet, and its advanced search features let users filter to find tweets near them. As its location features continue to evolve and gain adoption, expect them to become a part of the Promoted Tweets platform.
Until recently, applications for using Twitter on mobile phones were all developed by third-parties. But in April, the company releases its own BlackBerry app, acquired the company that makes Tweetie (which will become Twitter for iPhone), and announced plans for an Android application. Expect these applications to be GPS-enabled – meaning they’ll know a user’s location – and in turn create an opportunity for businesses to target Promoted Tweets based on a user’s whereabouts.
More to Come
We’re still at the dawn of Twitter’s monetization plans. Until Promoted Tweets are available to more advertisers and become a part of the Twitter stream, the impact of the platform will be fairly limited in the small business realm. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Twitter’s ad model could evolve into a staple of the small business online marketing mix, creating an unprecedented opportunity to communicate with current and potential nearby customers in real-time.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, WillSellarep