Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ad it up

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Today Twitter announced that it would soon start running ads -- or, as it calls them, "Promoted Tweets" -- on its platform.

The announcement, which was made via blog post by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, was light on details but here are the highlights...

1. "You will start to see Tweets promoted by our partner advertisers called out at the top of some Twitter.com search results pages."

2. "Only one Promoted Tweet will be displayed on the search results page."

3. "We plan to allow Promoted Tweets to be shown by Twitter clients and other ecosystem partners and to expand beyond Twitter search, including displaying relevant Promoted Tweets in your timelines in a way that is useful to you."

4. "This is distinct from both traditional search advertising and more recent social advertising."

Indeed, Promoted Tweets are a brand new category of online advertising that doesn't fit neatly into the conventions of search or social. That said, it's by no means revolutionary. From my point of view, it's a mere tiptoe into the advertising waters to see what the response from the community will be -- that community being users and marketers alike.

It's unlikely that Promoted Tweets will piss off users given the format is very tweet-like and the placement is non-intrusive. It's unclear, however, what their response will be in terms of clicks and conversions.

As for marketers, Twitter dropped named like Starbucks, Best Buy, Virgin, and Sony as already being on board. However, it didn't share any details about how these new ad units will be priced. Are we looking at CPM? CPC? CPR (Cost-per-retweet)?

Back in September, I penned a post for the Connectual blog speculating on what the ideal Twitter ad format would look like. In turn, I offered up 4 potential formats -- In-text, Contextual in-stream, Contextual on-site, and Sponsored Hash-tags.

In that post, I implored Twitter to consider 7 lessons learned from Google as per my upcoming book. Below is a recap of each lesson from my Sept. post along with some commentary per today's announcement.

1. Relevance rules. Ads should always be targeted to the content of the tweets. And, over time, they should be tailored to individual users based on their behavior – what ads they click on, what topics do they tweet about most often, what registration data have they provided, etc.

By placing the ads in search results, for now, Twitter will presumably target Promoted Tweets to relevant queries.

2. Don’t interrupt. Twitter ads should never disrupt the experience. They should be there for people to interact with on their own terms.

As it stands, Promoted Tweets in search results are non-interruptive. We'll see what happens when Twitter moves beyond the "first phase" as Biz alludes to in his post.

3. Tap the wisdom of the crowds. Using quality-scores to determine ad effectiveness and, in turn, placement and pricing will ensure the people have a voice in what ads they see. And enticing them with contests or other rewards for interacting with ads and brands will only stimulate the almighty WOM that advertisers are hoping for.

A number of times in his post, Biz emphasizes that Promoted Tweets must "resonate" with Twitter users. He also says that "if users don't interact with a Promoted Tweet to allow us to know that the Promoted Tweet is resonating with them, such as replying to it, favoriting it, or Retweeting it, the Promoted Tweet will disappear." Indeed, it sounds like we're looking at some sort of Twitter Quality Score here.

4. Act like content. Ads should feel like tweets, be embedded in hash-tags or otherwise appear as familiar Twitter features.

Check. I'm reminded of Digg's relatively new ad format which I critiqued on this blog in October. Digg ads look just like Digg stories, save the sponsored label. Same here with Promoted Tweets.

5. Test everything. Twitter should not just try one ad format. It should experiment with multiple models and see how the ecosystem -- advertisers, agencies, users, etc. -- responds.

For now, Twitter's just testing this one format but Biz points out that this is the first execution in a much larger experiment with advertising.

6. Let the data decide. The response of Twitter users -- via feedback thru tweets and feedback thru clicks -- should determine which formats to use and which ads to show within a given format.

Check.

7. Mindset matters. Fortunately for Twitter, many people its platform to talk about brands they like and don’t like and solicit input from others. Accordingly, the mindset on Twitter is often commercial – similar to Google and unlike Facebook, where the mindset is mostly social communication and entertainment. This should bode well for advertising effectiveness.

Biz says it himself, "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."

Bottom line -- if you're a marketer wondering if Promoted Tweets are right for you, allow me to drop a few more relevant Googley Lessons...

8. Test everything

The only way to know if Twitter ads will "resonate" with your audience is to try.

9. Track everything

Marketers will have to incorporate some new metrics into their analysis -- ie, what's the value of a retweet? And, if the goal is direct response, make sure you're tracking links in tweets all the way thru to conversion like Dell.

10. Let the data decide

Just like Twitter will see how far it can continue to push the envelope with ads by seeing how the community responds, so too must marketers get past their "shiny-new-object" syndrome and only continue funding Promoted Tweets if they perform. At the same time, don't quit on them if the first tweet you promote doesn't do well. Test various messages, calls-to-action, links, etc. and let the data tell you what the right combinations are.

11. The more shelf-space, the better

Whether it's Twitter search results or user-timelines, as a marketer, the more tweets you own -- whether you paid for them or not -- on each page or stream someone's looking at, the better.

12. Don't rely on search engine marketing alone

There are only so many people searching for your brand or your category. There are plenty more seeking and discovering relevant information from the people they follow on Twitter -- as well as those they don't. Search is a great tool to capture demand. Twitter is a great tool to create it. Ignore one or the other at your own peril.

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