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Twitter to add unsolicited ads

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Within the next month, Twitter will begin posting unsolicited adverts into users' tweet streams based on users' interests and activities - `a la Google and Facebook.

Prior to this, Twitter has only pushed adverts into users' streams if they follow the company posting the advert. Now, however, Twitter will replicate the model used by Facebook and Google, by dishing up ads it thinks users may be interested in - and not giving them the option to opt out.

This follows the introduction of “Promoted Tweets” in April 2010 and “Promoted Tweets to Followers” launched last month. The latter allows marketers to place their ad at the top of the tweet stream of users who follow that particular brand.

Promoted Tweets only appeared to users who searched for particular keywords, and as such, some users would have never seen any ads.

Twitter proceeded cautiously with the rollout of Promoted Tweets to Followers, limiting the number of ads shown to users and carefully gauging user reactions.

In a statement about the placement of promoted tweets at the top of timelines, Twitter said: “We are taking a deliberate and thoughtful approach with our advertising platform. As that platform evolves, we will continue to focus on delivering value for both marketers and users.”

Company executives have also said for some time that Twitter would introduce a targeted advertising system, allowing marketers to target specific audiences regardless of whether those users follow them or search for related terms.

Irritation alone

According to reports, Twitter is now selling the idea of “Promoted Tweets to users like your followers” to ad buyers. The service will go live for some users by the end of the month.

In a statement to the press, a Twitter spokesperson said: “While we have nothing to share about the way that the business might develop this fall, I can say the last month of testing for Promoted Tweets in the timeline has gone extremely well.”

According to Twitter, the promoted tweets in timelines will be sold using a modified auction, and as such it is not guaranteed which brands' ads will actually be delivered.

Social media lawyer, Paul Jacobson, says the new advertising model won't pose much of an issue beyond irritation for users who are accustomed to Twitter as an ad-free service.

“Twitter is trying to find a way to better monetise the service and introducing ads is an almost obvious choice,” says Jacobson.

Facebook's ad revenue is expected to total $2.2 billion this year, while Twitter's annual advertising revenue is estimated to be a modest $100 million. The site has, however, been given an $8 billion valuation and, as such, it is speculated that it needs to step up its revenue.

User reaction

Jacobson says: “This latest development is a departure from the previous initiative which involved ads from brands users follow. There does seem to be an intention to make these new ads relevant to users but we'll have to see how they are actually introduced and affect Twitter use.”

According to a survey conducted by market research firm, Lab42, only 11% of Twitter users get annoyed by Promoted Tweets. The survey included 500 Twitter users and was conducted in August, following the rollout of Promoted Tweets to Followers.

The results showed that users were surprisingly un-phased by the adverts; with 22% even saying they had found a discount offer via a promoted tweet. Eleven percent even said that following brands on Twitter was the main reason they used the service.

Eight percent of respondents followed over 50 brands, while close to half of the respondents said they follow between one and 10 brands on Twitter. Eleven percent said they didn't follow any.

Jacobson says: “In a sense this is no different to ads on Google and in Facebook. The difference is that Twitter's options are more limited given how the service works and is accessed.”

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