After years of speculation, Twitter recently launched an advertising
platform of its own. After nearly two months in the wild, some of the
marketers who jumped on board to use it first are speaking out.

What they’re saying is not entirely surprising: Promoted Tweets are wonderful.

Airline Virgin America sold 500 tickets within three hours. Bravo TV used Promoted Tweets to generate 300 retweets and 200,000 impressions for an Earth Day marketing initiative. Red Bull, which is using Promoted Tweets to connect the company’s Twitter account with athletes it sponsors, has seen “engagement rates…higher than typical cost-per-click and CPM advertising.

So is Promoted Tweets going to do for Twitter and marketers what AdWords did for Google and marketers? Not so fast.

First, it’s worth considering that no marketer taking a leap of faith on a new advertising platform is going to come out two months later slamming it. After all, few marketers want to look dumb and most media buyers, like most of us, prefer to remain employed. Given this, I think it’s wise to take anything marketers say about a new advertising platform they’re using with a grain of salt.

There’s no doubt that Twitter has the potential to do interesting things with advertising given the nature of the Twitter service. But I’m not convinced that the glowing reviews Promoted Tweets are receiving publicly indicate that Promoted Tweets is the holy grail Twitter and marketers have been looking for.

Virgin America sold 500 tickets as part of a promotion offering 50% off flights out of two airports in California. Question one: if Virgin America offered the same discount on its own website, would it have been able to sell 500 tickets too? My answer: probably. Question two: is such a promotion indicative of sustainable performance? Answer: no. More interestingly, Virgin America’s VP of Marketing, Porter Gale, told Adweek that its involvement with the launch of Promoted Tweets created approximately $10m in ‘media value‘ for the airline. As I’ve argued before, media value is a questionable metric at best and marketers often turn to it when they need to justify campaigns. In my opinion, it’s a red flag whenever it’s used.

For Bravo TV, it’s unclear what the 300 retweets and 200,000 impressions did for the cable television network, and whether or not they contributed to the achievement of the goals associated with the broader campaign Bravo TV was using Promoted Tweets to support. For Red Bull, it’s unclear what is meant by “engagement rates have been higher than typical cost-per-click and CPM advertising” since ‘engagement’, as it’s commonly used in the social media context, is not something that CPC and CPM advertising is designed to facilitate in the first place.

So do Promoted Tweets have potential or are marketers doing something they do very well — tooting their own horns? It’s far too early to say. The viability of Promoted Tweets will largely be determined by the ability of marketers to achieve a greater level of scale and their ability to correlate Promoted Tweets with real ROI, not other metrics like retweets, impressions and media value.

While it would be unrealistic to expect Promoted Tweets to rise to the level of AdWords anytime soon or at all, the number of marketers using the platform and the amount of money they’re spending will offer the best insight into how the platform is performing. What marketers say about their buys is largely irrelevant.

Photo credit: carrotcreative via Flickr.