Twitter's first real leap into monetization – do Promoted Tweets actually work?

by Knowlton Thomas | Culture

MoneyAt any given point in time, there are 10 trending topics on Twitter, plus a bonus one at the bottom. This one is special because it's accompanied by a little yellow box that reads "Promoted." That box costs promoters $100,000 and up.

This is Twitter's first real attempt at monetization, as the company tries to transform its tens of millions of active users into profit for the company. To think that a startup can alter the online social landscape and still struggle to generate revenue is kind of crazy, but nonetheless, it's an obstacle Twitter is working diligently to overcome.

First, what are Promoted Tweets? It's a simple concept, really. They're forced trending topics, supported by money instead of popularity in user conversations. It's a unique advertising channel for companies to promote their products or services, particularly pop culture, such as television show and movie premiers, or an online campaign pushing for viral.

Now, as well all know, trending topics are driven by who's talking the most about what—so the question becomes, then, can you promote a trend and actually make it become a real trend?

Twitter recently released statistics saying that roughly 5% of people click promoted tweets, many times more than the 1% web-ad standard. And also that 80% of those who took part in the first batch of promoted tweets came back for more, a sign of its effectiveness.

Those numbers are good for something still in such experimental stages, but it also means they lack substance. Perhaps 5% of people click it because the feature is still new, still a novelty? Is that percentage sustainable? 

The trick, I believe, is entirely in the promoted tweet. The advertiser has to understand its demographic. It has to understand the Twitter landscape. And thus, it must produce content that people will want to retweet and share. Because, ideally, that promoted tweets eventually becomes a real trending topic on its own. If a promoted tweet struggles to garner any attention, that only makes the product look even worse—after all, the public can't tell how well a print ad performed, but everyone can monitor the success of a promoted tweet.

It's an interesting concept that should continue to provide Twitter with some money, but not enough. Fortunately, Twitter's already hard at work on more methods for money. According to ReadWriteWeb, "starting in November, Twitter ads will arrive in the numerous third-party applications that make up the Twitter ecosystem." And AdAge reported that Twitter is experimenting with other advertising initiatives as well. For example, the social networking site is playing with the idea of a "Promoted Accounts" feature that would accompany Twitter's Suggested Users function.

Twitter's phenomenonal 370,000 new users per day are just begging to be exploited to turn the Twitter revolution into deep pockets for its employees. And I firmly believe that Twitter will indeed make this happen, and soon.

San Francisco, California, United States

Twitter is a privately funded startup with offices in the SoMA neighborhood of San Francisco, CA. Started as a side project in March of 2006, Twitter has grown into a real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices. In countries all around the world, people follow the sources most relevant to them and access information via Twitter as it happens—from breaking... more

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Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton is the managing editor of Techvibes and author of Tempest Bound. Based in Vancouver, Knowlton has been published in national publications and has also appeared on television and radio. Previously he was an editor for New Westminster weekly The Other Press and served on its board of directors. When not working, Knowlton enjoys hiking, tennis, and martial arts. more

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