Twitter goes corporate, adds search ads

Long-awaited Promoted Tweets program makes brands' presence on the microblogging service official, bringing paid tweets to search results and eventually users' activity streams.

You're going to be seeing search ads on Twitter after all.

Adding to the whirlwind of announcements leading up to the company's first annual developer conference, several news outlets late Monday posted interviews with Twitter executives to unveil a search ad program that will put brands' messages into users' Twitter streams.

Early Tuesday, Twitter unveiled the program, "a simple service we're calling Promoted Tweets," heralding it with a short FAQ on the Twitter blog to give a sense of what's coming with the company's new "non-traditional" approach to advertising:

You will start to see Tweets promoted by our partner advertisers called out at the top of some Twitter.com search results pages. We strongly believe that Promoted Tweets should be useful to you. We'll attempt to measure whether the Tweets resonate with users and stop showing Promoted Tweets that don't resonate.

Initial advertisers in the program include Starbucks, Virgin America, and Bravo, all of which have already been using Twitter's reach to promote their brands. With Promoted Tweets, that organically built promotion is becoming official much as Twitter eventually built its own version of fan-created "replies" and "retweets." First, these ads are going to show up if users search for a keyword that the advertiser has purchased. Eventually, they'll show up in users' Twitter streams both on the company homepage and third-party client applications; no more than one ad will be displayed at a time.

According to the FAQ, "Promoted Tweets will be clearly labeled as 'promoted' when an advertiser is paying, but in every other respect they will first exist as regular Tweets."

Twitter COO Dick Costolo will talk details of the program Tuesday at the AdAge Digital conference, and on Wednesday Costolo and CEO Evan Williams will discuss it further at the company's Chirp developer conference.

Twitter's business model has been talked about nearly as much as the company itself since its hyped 2007 debut: $160 million of venture capital has been pumped into the company , and yet its executives repeatedly refused to rush to make a business plan public. It's a decision that some said was wise and others said was short-sighted.

It's obvious that the company considered many different ways of making money and finally launching search ads--the basis for Google's phenomenal financial success--may be a concession of sorts. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said less than a year ago at a conference that " we're not pursuing advertising " because "it's just not quite as interesting to us." And in a media interview, Williams said last year that the company would be launching paid accounts for businesses , geared toward managing marketing and analytics, before 2009's end. That didn't happen.

Twitter was rumored to be launching an ad platform last month at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, where Williams was keynoting. But Williams' big announcement was @Anywhere, a publisher partner program that appears to stem from the same philosophy as Facebook Connect and which has yet to make a real launch.

In the FAQ posted Tuesday, Stone acknowledged that the company's "slow and thoughtful approach to monetization" bred frustration among Twitter watchers, but explained the hesitance this way: "Over the years, we've resisted introducing a traditional Web advertising model because we wanted to optimize for value before profit."

Twitter's appeal to advertisers comes at a time when some of the third-party developers who've been building products with the service for the past few years say they feel jilted : Twitter has commissioned a BlackBerry app and acquired iPhone app Tweetie, leading some third-party companies to complain that its once-open platform is becoming rigid and preferential.

The Chirp conference, which kicks off Wednesday, will undoubtedly have to address this invariable shift from a coder-friendly but unprofitable product into a legitimate communication business.

Update Tuesday 4:47 a.m. PDT: Added information from Twitter's FAQ announcing the Promoted Tweets initiative.

 

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