Does advertising on social networks have to be at the cost of user experience?
On 12th April 2010 Twitter announced its new business strategy to include promoted tweets in its organic search results. This new direction in collecting revenue from advertisers raised many questions among the online marketing community and avid Twitterers. Is Twitter not going to affect the user experience in the network by “polluting” the content with promotional tweets? At the same time, marketers have been eagerly anticipating Twitter’s rollout of a strategy for monetizing its value. The new initiative by the company to mix user generated content with advertisements was therefore hailed by them as the most logical step by a company that wants to maintain sustainable profits in the volatile online technology market.
Figure 1: How a promoted tweet looks like
Connoisseurs following closely how Twitter’s marketing strategy is developing, may be likely to conclude that promoted tweets is not such a breakthrough given the similarity of the strategy with Google Adwords. The only difference with Twitter is that its search engine is (still) not as accurate as the one of Google, with the main issue that Twitter Search displays search results in chronological order, which makes organic search results in Twitter (as they were before the promoted tweet) quite irrelevant at times. Thank God the live Twitter feed is included in the Google search results since last year! However, the promoted tweets will now appear on top of the Twitter search list no matter what time they are posted, which could render keyword searches on Twitter more targeted and relevant to the user.
This seems like a win-win-win situation for Twitter, the user and advertisers. Twitter will substantially improve the quality of its search engine, the user will find more relevant content easier (the Advanced Twitter search is good, but is still not as half as elaborated as Google’s algorithms), and advertisers get the opportunity to engage in valuable conversations with their target audiences, so called “Permission marketing”. (Seth Godin has been promoting this since the beginning of this decade!!). Twitter will protect its users from spamming and will compel advertisers to engage in real value creation by letting users decide which promoted tweets get to remain in the timeline. When a promoted tweet is published, Twitter will look at the amount of “retweets” and “favorites”, which will raise the popularity of a Tweet or doom it to oblivion. Tweets that fail to become popular will be simply removed from the timeline.
While this seems like a great strategy to retain the unique value of Twitter as a social network for content sharing and brand-to-consumer two-way conversations, it is still no guarantee how promoted tweets in the timeline of users will increase their experience in Twitter. To draw a comparison, let’s look at the Farmville Facebook addicts and the displayed Farmville updates in the News feed. Many people simply unfriended other people just not to be spammed with Farmville updates, simply because they didn’t know how to change their settings on the Facebook news feed. Surely, these settings were only enabled by Facebook a few months ago and since then you can adjust the Facebook timeline to your taste, skipping irrelevant status updates from Farmville aficionados (among others).
The question that Twitter has to answer now is: What will happen when promoted tweets are included in the timelines of users that don’t follow the company which sends these tweets? Wouldn’t that wind up the avid Twitter user? And does Twitter offer the option for one to customize the timeline so that promoted tweets are only displayed when the user is interested in them? An example: in Google, promoted search results are mixed with organic search results, which doesn’t directly enhance the user experience, but motivates companies to compete for relevance and improve their website content, which ultimately improves user experience online. As Twitter now offers a similar service to advertisers at the danger of deteriorating user experience, it needs to make sure that:
a) Either the users have the option to customize their timelines (exclude promoted tweets altogether, or allow only promoted tweets from companies they follow)
b) Or companies that are tweeting regularly but not buying keywords for promoted tweets can compete on an equal level playing field with big advertisers (just like in Google, where bigger brands “own” the most expensive and sought keywords and smaller advertisers can only slowly rise to the top of the search page by optimizing their website content for crawlers)
If Twitter is to follow the threaded path of Google’s success, it needs to make sure it has the right equipment for climbing the top. What seems like a shortcut to becoming profitable may turn into a slippery slope towards a collapse. Only time will show how Twitter’s management will tackle this new challenge…
Update: A brief video showing how the tweets are sent by the company and what the user in Twitter actually sees:
Scroll down for the post Hello World for explanation
(This is a guest article, by Silvia Todorova)
29 reacties op “Does advertising on social networks have to be at the cost of user experience?”
I believe that if Twitter starts using the promoted tweets strategy, they have to be very carefully how they communicate this to their users and they have to provide opportunities for those users to shut the promoted tweets of or indeed to select only companies of their own interest.
Most people are extremely annoyed with the increased amount of advertisements linked to all social networks they use and even though it is logical that Twitter as a company wants to enhance profits, they should be careful not to do it in such a way that it decreases user experience. It would be a challenge for them to be one of the few social networks that employs advertising but in a subtle way, in that way it would not be at the cost of user experience and still increases (financial) value for the company.
@ Maartje: thanks for your comment. currently Twitter is indeed the first to do it in a “subtle” way and I wonder if Twitter users who didn’t know about this new initiative would ever notice it…
Actually Twitter is not really a social networking site but a Micro-blogging site which offers it’s users the opportunity to network on a more efficient business level and even on more friendlier and casual terms that you would do in person in a business environment of any sorts etc. Twitter is more about making connections with the right people and if you pay attention the majority of tweets are already of an advertising/professional/promoting nature rather than personal so promoted tweets will not do that much of a difference except perhaps push the non-paid-for tweets a bit further down the timeline and even then not that much as people favorite and retweet tweets they find interesting and like practically every second.
Also even though there is the rare occasion someone could find a job via twitter the normal channels of applying should NOT be overlooked nor skipped at all; plus it is a lack of decorum and rude to actually actively try to be repped or find a job through twitter! Never ever approach a person in a certain position asking for a job on twitter, advice on certain aspects of the profession etc yes but not an actual job, you get a bad reputation like that! People of a certain status in any industry are not on the Micro-blogging site (i.e. Twitter) or any other online site of a networking nature to gather business contacts or find employees, they’re there to network, to keep in touch with other people in their industry etc and/or give advice to people trying to break in the industry, they’re most usually open and more than happy to answer questions and explain things if they have the time but it’s RUDE to try and “shove your ‘CV’ down their throats” in that way.
Think of it as going outside their office and standing there pretty much being creepy and stalker-ish looking for a job; without having gone through the proper conventional and very much preferred traditional channels of filling out applications forms etc in order to get the job. You wouldn’t do that in real life so why do it online? Think of your online selves as an extension of your real life selves and simply do NOT do anything you wouldn’t do under normal circumstances…
Of course this is advice that was given to me and others from people that are in the industry etc and also from personal experience of hearing things and situations that occurred from some professionals that are enough to make anyone cringe in embarrassment. And naturally these are all my personal opinions and not the holy grail of do’s and don’ts’ of Twitter!!
I personally do not use twitter because i think one social network is enough. but i understand that twitter is an effective way to make little blogs and its quite interesting too. I must say that I hate advertising on facebook and co. I was glad when i figured out that I could actually delete farmville of my newsfeed. Therefore I believe that twitter, if wanting to stay as popular as now, should forbid these advertising tweets. For me this is another to not use it, and I would be the first to delete these advertisements. But I can also understand the other side, so the compromise of being able to control what come of the timeline is acceptable.
I agree with Maartje. Twitter should be very carefull with the way they implement these promotion tweets to users. While I do believe that a lot of people use Twitter to stay up to date with companies of their interests, they can get easily annoyed when the tweets will become too commercial. Twitter now is a way for them to be more ‘informally’ informed about the inns and outs of the company, instead of the usual commercial messages (of course this is just my opinion).
People should get the option to opt-out of promotion tweets when they’re not interested.
@Maria: Thanks for the insight! It will be interesting to see if indeed promoted tweets get favored and retweeted often enough by users to predominate the top of the timeline. This will render Twitter a more commercial medium, but also more useful (at least to some users)…I personally doubt that people will bother retweeting commercial messages, so maybe the whole idea will slowly die out….
@Lisa@Mayen: Thanks for the entries, I believe the promoted tweets might not be as obtrusive as advertisement in Facebook, mostly because they are only displayed when you search in Twitter (Twitter Search) and later, Twitter will automatically include them in the timeline. I think it all depends on the preferences you make in your Twitter account and this will determine the extent to which people will be annoyed by promoted tweets. As Lisa said, we can now exclude the Farmville status updates from Facebook and it has become a lot more pleasant experience for some of us. What if the same happens on Twitter? I think the company needs to make sure, unlike Facebook (who failed to communicate clearly about this terrific option), that the average user knows how to set their privacy and adjust what they see on the timeline to their taste.
@Silvia Thing is avid twitterers such as myself will not retweet promoted tweets and to be honest with you the only people likely to retweet such tweets are employees of the company that did the promoted tweet so this new-fanged idea is probably going to die no a slow painful death but more like a fast and swift one.
Bottom line is, for tweets to be at the top of the timeline and dominate it so to speak they have to be retweeted by X amount of users and promoted tweets simply won’t be able to get such an amount that they stay on the top, they may start there cause they’re promoted but they won’t stay there.
Also each timeline is personalized according to whom each user follows, what they tweet most about, search and retweeted tweets etc, or at least I assume it is as my timeline always always has things from the publishing industry first, breaking news around the world second and then comes all else which doesn’t bother me really as that is what I mostly follow and tweet about so it’s already personalized before I go on it and personalize it even more….. So I guess to put it differently each user forms their timeline in a sense but how they interact with other users on twitter etcetera.
Hope these make sense. lol
@Maria This makes sense, I agree with you. But indeed Twitter will begin by putting the promoted tweets on top, no matter what. And passive users (by not retweeting) will contribute to the promoted tweets dying away…
To be honoust, I don’t have a clue when it comes to Twitter. I never tried to figure it out either so I might not understand everything from this article correctly but anyhow. Based no my experiences with Facebook, I agree with you (and most commenters) that Twitter has to be really careful with introducing promoted tweets, give the option to clear any tweets from your timeline (ones it has gotten on there) and be clear to users how to do all this. I do believe that promoted tweets might get retweeted when brought the right way. I know promotional sites on facebook that actually get replies. E.g. starbucks because people are interested in their promotion (they often post some way to get discount etc) or Mojito because they post something funny during the weekend when most people are in a ‘mojito mood’. So as long as twitter users can manage any promotional tweed that might end up in their timeline and the tweets are interesting I believe this could be a win-win-win situation.
I think people should have the choice to get these extra tweets if they want to, but only on request. When Twitter decides to clutter their pages with sponsored messages, people will simply find another way to spread their tweets.
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I think it is really time for twitter to get real and start making some money. if they don’t start increasing the value of the company soon, they might face disaster. Yahoo, Apple and Myspace were all overtaken by other firms simply because their adversaries were better at business. Bill Gates (Microsoft) went to IMB to pitch the PC, Larry Page and Sergey Brin discovered ad words and Zuckerman (Facebook) hired a staff of over 400 with in a year. Although advertising can be a pest, twitter seems to be edging it in… smartly. It can, as Silvia mentioned, also contribute to the user experience of their own site and the advertisers sites. In all, Twitter should really consider business over bona fide. The great thing is that compared to traditional advertising where the adman tells us what to by (Colgate toothpaste with new improved whitening formula including micro sparkles WTF?!?!?), the online adman is at the mercy of the tweeter or twitterer or tweeterer or whatever we call them. Power to the online community!!!
My knowledge of Twitter goes as far as me having an account, and not even knowing how to accept people who want to follow me! Although there is nothing really there to follow since I have never posted a tweet in my life.
I agree with George is that they have to start developing a business model FAST and make some money, or else there soon there won’t be a platform for promoted tweets to begin with. The question is how. I personally am not that annoyed by the Facebook ads, they are rather out-of-my-way on the right side of the page, so I just never look at them. This is about the same as my behaviour with Google AdWords, I automatically skip them and continute with the ‘real’ search results. I think this will also be the case with Twitter’s promoted tweets, people will just ignore them and go on to whatever they find more interesting.
Even though I do not use twitter at all, I think we should all realise that it is hard to provide such a huge service and still keep it free for everyday users. When looking at Google, facebook, youtube etc, (and you keep in mind that you do not pay a cent for any of those services) it is pretty much increadible what we are being offered to use everyday for free. We should not complain too much about a few ads here and there.
Having said that, I think twitter has no choice but to place advertisements to generate some much needed cash flow. Admittedly, ads are irritating (and sometimes plain old retarded, especially those of the ‘shoot the monkey and win an Iphone’ variety) but I think that the die hard twitterers would not stop using the service just because of the advertisements.
Hell, even skype has the occasional ad pop up nowadays, but it still saves me hundreds of euros a month in phonebills so Im still going to use it regardless.
Thank you guys for the comments. I was curious to see how this new promoted tweet initiative is developing, so here’s how a blogger using Twitter regularly experienced it. I would say, a lot of you were right, see for yourselves:
And here, how companies who were advertising on Twitter actually benefitted from increased sales and engaged more consumers:
I am sorry, the second link is:
I find twitter one of the greatest innovative social networks. I heard that they were bussy for a long time with the possibilities to advertising. I personally think that it is a very smart and innovative way to use advertising. Because, most people are annoyed by pop ups, or advertising, which is only there to create more brand awareness, but does not add anything to the visitor! I however, personally think that the advertising tweets from companies, making direct accesible offers to the twitters is a very great tool! And it would certainly be succesful, if people are interested in it! thereby, I adress especially the “if” part, as there are also people who might not be fond of this happening. They should have the possibility to switch advertising tweets off! Or perhaps one can have the possibility to become a follower, or allow only certain companies in to receive advertising tweets from! As there are always two sides on what someone likes, or does not like. In this way, twitter cover the whole group! And the people who want to have the freedom to choose benefit, and the ones who like to receive advertising, benefit from it as well.
I agree that all users should have the option to switch on or off for whatever tweet and in what category. I also think that companies using this sort of advertisements are desperate at whatever cost to make more profit and do not keep in mind that by going with this approach it will become to much and they will lose prospect clients instead of winning them over there is a saying Good wine needs no bush.
I agree with Lisa. I myself am not so familiar with Twitter as well. I hate advertisements on social networks. We get bombarded with advertisements everywhere, in real life and in the virtual life. I do see Twitter’s point, since it is a company that wants extra profits. I would advice them to focus on personal advertisements so that everyone can make a selection of their favourite brands. But Twitter should also provide the option of eliminating all advertisements if a user does not want to receive/see these.
I think it was pretty much expected that Twitter would engage advertising, so it was only a matter of time. I used to be on Twitter way back in Feb 09′ when practically nobody I knew had an account, I deleted it after 4 months because I wasnt that active on it and I didnt find it that interesting. Today almost everyone I know is on Twitter. As for advertising, it doesn’t bother me that much, I think that you should have to option to swtich it off or at least deceide which ads you can allow.
I personally do not use Twitter or either understand its features. however i created an account three months ago but i never used it. however many of my classmates and friends are using it to share their information. it is a successful social media tool which is most popular mainly among young people who like to keep informing about their updated news. since many people knows about Twitter, i think it is a good oppotunity to place advertisements mainly if you know the number of daily visitors around the world!
I personally do not use Twitter or either understand its features. however i created an account three months ago but i never used it. nowdays many of my classmates and friends are using it to share their information. It is a successful social media tool which is most popular mainly among young people who like to keep informing about their updated news. since many people knows about Twitter, i think it is a good oppotunity to place advertisements mainly if you know the number of daily visitors around the world!
A nice and brief video showing what how the tweets are sent by the company and what the user in Twitter actually sees:
Promoted tweets are not banners or display ads, this is something more subtle…
I must say that i have unfollowed a lot ot tweeter just because of the advertisement, they are not even subtle and I don’t even believe they have any effect.
like with starbuck, in case of a win-win-situation for both parties I do agree that it is very clever and can actually work but I think for me that will be the only scenario – I mean where are surrounded by advertisements everywhere that we somehow created a sense for genuine advertisements. Twitter should be carefull with this because it can damage a companies reputation very easily bevause users might feel used
Lots have already been said on your “Organizations-on-Twitter-are-trying-to-spam-their-followers” topic… I agree with most of the above comments: followers need to have to chance to opt out. Anyway, I think it’s smart to advertise through Twitter because the people who follow a certain organization are interested in that organization and wouldn’t mind receiving tweets with any content of that company. If the organization mentions a decrease in followers after spamming/advertising, the organization has to think if Twitter advertising does not harm its name instead of promoting it… I personally don’t mind receiving one advertisement a day per organization that I follow, as long as the spamming will not increase by 3 or more advertisements a day I will keep following my favorite organizations through Twitter!
I hope twitter is not going to lose market shares or even die with new strategy.
I like the FB’s advertising strategy, hyper targeting, which provides the exact demographic info of the target audience to the advertisers. It gives advertisers freedom to adjust their campaigns from demographics to finance and duration to frequency. That’s how FB is generating revenue by pay per click or pay per thousand. I am afraid how twitter will make advertising hyper and what would be their revenue strategy? The main question would be, as it is with traditional advertising, measuring the effectiveness of the advert. The other challange would be that how it will agree members to deal.
@Alvi, thanks for sharing your opinion! I think that Facebook’s strategy is completely different from Twitter’s and one can’t compare them. They are not even competitors. Facebook has only suceeded in tagreting its ads better because it collects info from users by invading their privacy, see this article, recently Facebook once more updated privacy settings, because of pressure from the public: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/technology/27facebook.html?hp.
When it comes to how efficient this new advertising strategy of Twitter will be and what revenue it may bring, it is indeed interesting to see if it will become a major way for Twitter to win money from ads, or they will rely on other sources. I am also curious if Twitter will stop only at this…
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Promoted tweets will amplify social media efforts: