twitterWhen Twitter banned all third-party companies from inserting ads directly into users’ tweet streams back in May, the consensus was that it was because Twitter would soon be plugging its own ads into the timeline. “Soon” is now, according to a new report, which means marketers now have three options when it comes to buying Twitter-based ads. But will the new ads be a worthwhile investment?

It will take some time to figure that out, mainly because Twitter will roll out the new in-stream ads slowly – with users of HootSuite, a third-party social media management platform – among the first to see the ads. As HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes tells "Ad Age", the caution is so that Twitter can “carefully gauge people’s reactions” to the new ad units in their timelines. This follows the slow, deliberate launches of Twitter’s two other ad units in recent months: Promoted Tweets (in search) and Promoted Trends.

So with a trio of new ad units, and steady clients, including big brands like Virgin, Starbucks and Red Bull, Twitter has seemingly evolved into a social media advertising platform – not just a cool, free communications platform. That means marketers will need to stop thinking about Twitter experimentally, and start holding it to the standards they’d expect from any other advertising platform.

While the new in-stream ad units aren’t available to all advertisers yet, here are some questions to consider in the coming weeks, when the buzz about them reaches a fever pitch: 

•    How well can I segment my audience?

Twitter didn’t comment on the news, so there aren’t explicit details about how the targeting will work. "Ad Age" says users will be targeted based on the people and products they already follow. Makes sense, but in-stream ads will be more effective if Twitter can offer more granularity.

In the case of Red Bull, for example, has a potential ad recipient tweeted about energy drinks in general? Or can Red Bull target them because they’ve tweeted about being tired? Will keyword-based targeting be an option? What about geographical targeting, or segmenting messages based on different times of day (dayparting)? What kinds of segmentation on Twitter would be most useful to your campaigns?

•    How much control do I have over the content?

Social media marketing is about giving up “control” over consumer reactions, but not about completely aborting a brand’s core messaging. The 140 character limit for tweets means that messages need to be quick, catchy and yet still retain the brand’s unique “voice,” all while delivering a pitch or call to action. Will Twitter offer assistance with customizing these messages?

What about retweets? Will users be able to forward an ad in its entirety, or will they be able to retweet it with their own (potentially cheeky or negative) commentary? Are there filters to ensure that Red Bull's in-stream ads don’t show up between other tweets that contain profanity or other undesirable content?

•    How do I determine my ROI?

This has been an obstacle for many social media campaigns that aren’t tied to specific ad units. Twitter could solve this by giving advertisers custom, shortened URLs for their promoted tweets, and providing the analytics on clicks.

The company has its own URL shortener – – that makes this possible. A link within an ad could even drive traffic to special landing pages, or serve as a link to download a coupon. This would make Twitter a more effective tool for direct response marketers, not just brands. How would your team determine the ROI of an ad in a Twitter timeline?

Plenty of questions, with more speculation to come over the next few weeks. But with marketers gearing up to exhaust their budgets for the holidays, Twitter certainly has picked an opportune time to launch this new ad unit.

Tameka Kee

Published 2 November, 2010 by Tameka Kee

Tameka Kee has been covering digital media with a focus on online advertising, social media and gaming since 2007. Find her at or follow her on Twitter

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Comments (5)

Niranjan Sridharan

Niranjan Sridharan, Digital Auditor at ABC

Hi Tameka, Nice succinct post. I see Twitters strategy as a cusp between the way Facebook has positioned itself and with what I call the “moral high ground approach” that Google took with the paid search advertising. I think 6 months should tell us how effective and robust their model really is. Cheers

over 7 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

This is why Iove Econsultancy. Hours after a major piece of news and I'm getting a clear analysis of its implications. Thanks.

over 7 years ago


Dennis Moons

Good overview.

A promoted tweet from Lionsgate films popped up in my Hootsuite timeline. It was for a movie called The Next Three Days and had a link to the trailer. It opens in two weeks in US theaters but after some checking I didn't even find a release date specified for my location (specified as Brazil). People say Twitter unites people from all over the world, but if I'm in Brazil most of my friends that would see possible retweets are also going to be in Brazil. 

So no geotargeting yet I'm guessing.

over 7 years ago


Mark Shaw

Excellent article that explains so much but also leaves us thinking about some possible answers as well.. I use Hootsuite and started to see the promoted ads appearing last night... To me there was no targeting of anything that I had said or done.... seemed to be totally random.... It was from Eventbrite for their ticket booking service....

I am very against the whole inserting ads into our streams... Twitter are fortunate as they have many different ways to generate revenue. Many of the other 3rd party applications are not as fortunate so inserting ads is the only option... ie Ubertwitter for example... I dont mind Ubertwitter doing this, as the service is free.

But Twitter do have options, and I would hate to see my stream compromised by meaningless ads that I have nor ever will be interested in...


over 7 years ago


Michelle Carvill

It's a similar strategy to that of Spotify. Of course, they launched with voice ads streaming between playlists - and everyone was very comfortable with that - and of course had a paid option to switch off ads.  Of course, their platform has now evolved with display ads into the song selection dashboard. Once a user gets used to a service, and loves it - (I couldn't live without skype, twitter etc) then the phasing in of advertising and revenue generation platforms are far more palatable. Great move by Twitter to have positioned themselves as a utility and now introduce ad platforms for overt revenue generation. I don't think it will harm the brand at all - as the all important user engagement commitment has been fully determined prior to pushing noise along the platform.  The merit of the platform for those that find it useful far outweigh the perhaps mild irritation of ad interruption.

over 7 years ago

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