Twitter’s ad platform: Will advertising be the death of social media?

Simon Mainwaring / Advertising / 9 years ago

The launch of Twitter’s own advertising platform, Promotional Tweets, is risky for several reasons.

Firstly, the monetization of these platforms, while inevitable, goes against the very attributes that made these new social platforms so compelling – people could connect free from advertising and its ulterior motives.

Secondly, as with any new business model, there is a learning curve during which the founders experiment running the risk of alienating much of their base while they work out exactly the right balance to strike.

Thirdly, advertising is an insatiable beast that will increase in volume, sophistication and penetration.

In short, my concern is this – as advertising penetrates further and deeper into the wormholes of social networking it may strike at the very heart of the open source promise that is the internet.

This promise, and the solutions it may reveal, are critical at this historical moment as the world faces with so many crises that compound the urgency for solutions.

I believe social technology is teaching us to be human again. It’s effectively re-humanizing us by allowing us to use synaptic tools to relearn the rules of effective communication, engagement and connection. As such it is awakening in us the hope of global renewal through our collective consciousness and efforts.

If advertising penetrates the virtual world as deeply as it has the real world, it may well, much like a cancer, cost us not just the part of the body that is directly infected but poison the entire social eco-system.

I realize that to suggest that social networks not monetize their platforms is naïve and unrealistic. But I caution them to consider to what extent they exploit social goodwill to serve their own interests for they might just become a casualty of their own ambitions.

What are your thoughts or concerns – is the Twitter ad platform a good thing and how do you regulate it?


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  1. Avatar Simon Young says:

    I feel confident that Twitter’s efforts at monetisation will work, simply because of the confidence I see in the Twitter team. That confidence is not just recent, either. Last year they were saying there would be some form of monetisation; they’re well funded, reasonably lean and well managed, and not douchebags at all. They have a pretty good dialogue with their customer base (as much as can be expected with 105 million people around the world!).

    Plus they’ve inherited from Google some of the “don’t be evil”ness that seems to be working for Google (okay, that’s arguable, but I think Google is still delivering on their core proposition of making information available).

  2. Avatar Michael Mann says:

    The relevance guidelines are crucial ensuring (Twitter) content circulation that’s relevant to users. I predict the first phase “promoted tweets” model will most certainly stick if the relevance checks are what Twitter says they are. The major concern I have is how Twitter will find a way to keep “promoted tweets” relevant in a highly intimate space (personal streams) that’s not intrusive. I see a ton of advantage for adverts and users if this system is a value creator, not simply poisoned spam into the social eco-system as you pointed out. Great comments Simon.

  3. “If advertising penetrates the virtual world as deeply as it has the real world, it may well, much like a cancer, cost us not just the part of the body that is directly infected but poison the entire social eco-system.”
    Pretty strong stuff. I have fallen for the charms of “free” and “free of advertising” social networking things as they've emerged and always felt disappointed when they were commercialized (I went as far as to angrily switch off my Facebook account). But clearly there is no other business basis for these services, I, for example, can't imagine paying a fee to belong to a ad-free Twitter world. And I can't imagine any billionaire or government agency underwriting such a service for the “social good”. So what else can happen? I do think advertising will “kill” these services – but then new “free” things will emerge and we'll all migrate over to them thinking, “this time it's true”.

  4. Hi, Jerry, and thanks. I totally see your point of view. Such platforms will either stay sufficiently free of spam, “noise” and advertising or people will migrate to new alternatives. That said, I have to say I am hugely impressed with how attentive the founders of Twitter and Facebook have been to the delicate balance you must strike between platform changes and community support. This is a new business paradigm in which the community is an equal partner and as such monetization is a necessary but tricky process. My hope is that Twitter will get the balance right and build on its current momentum. My fear is that access to promotional tweets will inspire brands to swamp users with advertising that will rob Twitter of its intimacy. I believe this intimacy is one of its greatest strengths and key to its transformative power around social issues. Thanks, Jerry. Simon

  5. perhaps I'm mistaken but…..
    the advertising “balance” is just a sign of greed perhaps?

    If Facebook charged users $1 a month for membership, wouldn't that amount to about $400M/month revenues? That's $4B a year.
    My guess is the play is for a much larger revenue model with ads.

    So, we're not worth $1/month to Facebook is my conclusion. But we are worth $5/month to their advertisers.

  6. Avatar helen milner says:

    I whole heartedly agree with what you have said. It is inevitable that commerce is and will infiltrate social media platforms but I fear that if advertisers who approach this medium traditionally will create great rifts in communities, these communities may reduce or find other communities without such invasive platforms. The twitter team have shown a lot of wisdom and hopefully they are treading carefully AND listening.

  7. Avatar Huxley says:

    As you say, this was inevitable. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about value-based exchange and advertisers permission to speak – trying to isolate the win-win for platforms like Twitter who provide so much wealth by sheer fact of enabling us all to connect and share, and their ability to provide advertisers with enough of a reason to warrant investment. As I see it, choice is the single most important success measure in this equation, in that the same way that I choose who I follow, listen to, reach out to, must apply to the types of ad content I am served in the twitstream. Without relevance advertising quickly becomes spam, regardless of whether my behavior is ‘passive observational’ or entirely focused engagement. With this in mind the challenge for twitter will be to only serve me ads based on my actions (and interests) at any given point. Does this sound feasible or overly idealistic? I’m hopeful bcause Twitter have a great team and excellent rapport with their community, so my guess is that they will strike the right balance, listening and learning as the platform and model evolves. And in any case the world is watching… so like any other social platform, likewise twitter will be held accountable by the community for their actions, with people either continuing support, or not, determined by the value of their experience.

  8. Thanks, Vince. Interesting, I hadn't thought of it that way. Obviously any company will seek to maximize profit so that hard to avoid. Though I do think that Twitter is deeply aware that they can't pollute their ecosystem. I'm sure the'll be some community push back if and when it goes too far. Thanks for the thought provoking feedback. Simon

  9. Thanks Michael and I completely agree. Such a tough balance to get right though and there's always casualties on the way. If the tools are sophisticated enough the community can enjoy the best of advertising. If not, I fear for the health of the system. Personally, I believe it has so much potential to do good I would just hate to see that happen. Simon

  10. I agree, Simon. I like the tone of the brand and what Evan or Biz says when I see them speak. I also like the way they have handled community building so far. I'm confident they'll get it right and that they did the necessary research to make sure the promotional tweets are too intrusive. Good to hear from you, Simon

  11. Avatar gunthersonnenfeld says:

    I like this perspective, Simon, and I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that tools like Twitter allow us to re-train the way we interact, as well as support the promise that our actions can have significant meaning.

    That said, I thought Shiv Singh's piece on “promoted tweets” was a fair and well articulated POV (leaning toward approval) on the platform, and a bit of an expansion on John Battelle's prediction of a “TweetSense” environment:

    He raised one issue in particular I thought was resonant: the possibility that smaller brands could be priced out of the market.

    Personally, I think the folks at Twitter will allow the market to vet this offering out in its own way and they will adapt. I also don't think they will be reliant upon this platform as a primary source of revenue — this may very likely be the result of investor pressure as opposed to long-term growth. In fact, with its utility as a conversation engine, I would expect them to revisit their 3rd party relationships and focus more on how data can be leveraged in unique ways and in a less intrusive monetization scheme.



  12. Great feedback, Gunther. Thanks. I too believe it won't be their main source of income and that the community will regulate the balance needed to make advertising tolerable if not welcome. I'll check out Shiv's article. He's a great thinker so thanks. One thing that's always impressed me is how Twitter has never lost sight of their role as enablers of the community. I think they'll keep their priorities intact and allow big and small brands to participate as an extension of what the community wants. Thanks so much for the insights and links. Simon

  13. I agree, Helen. My concern is not so much with twitter but how brands and their traditional advertising agencies will use promotional tweets. The more convenient it becomes for them to blanket the ecosystem with message, the less demands there are placed on them to be sensitive and listening. Hopefully the twitter algorithm will be sophisticated to compensate for that. Great feedback. Thanks.

  14. Thanks, Huxley. I agree the community will regulate the adoption of the ad platform and that Twitter has thus far demonstrated great sensitivity and respect for the community. My concern is that the platform will ease the burden on brands and their ad partners to be equally responsible. Convenience is the last thing you need in the social space. Relationships should not be automated, standardized or one size fits all. I fear this is coming just at the time when leading brands are finally embracing their role in effective interaction with consumers. That said, Twitter's algorithm may provide a sufficient safety net. One thing's for sure. If the promotional tweets become too intrusive the community will reject them and I'm sure twitter will quickly follow suit.
    Thanks for the great input, Stephen. Simon

  15. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    Great post Simon!

    I think if Twitter doesn't hit the mark on this, they'll create the world's largest discount coupon service. Twitter won't be directly responsible for this, it will be their advertisers and spammers who will try to take advantage of their platform.

    The informed consumer is 'ad blind' so unless relevancy is high, the quality of the ad (in copy and offer) is high and the 'brand' itself has high trust, Twitter won't optimise their platform to the fullest. Just think how we treat Google ads. Same behaviour will apply to Twitter ads.

    The question for brands is this:
    – are your ads adding long-term value to your KPI's and bottom line?

    If the ads are to simply used as a discount offering, brands are missing the boat and creating an ineffective spend. They also risk depleting the value of their brand. In a world of one to many and many to many, the ads have to be 'socialised'. See 'Groupon' as an example.

    Will Twitter's ad platform work? sure it will. Can it be better? 800%!

    Thanks Simon.

  16. Thanks Mahei,

    Great points. Here's a crazy idea. What if the ads were used to promote products and ideas that reflected their core values that served the interests of all. I'm not sure what that looks like but why can't advertising start by being socially responsible and then offer products relevant to those values. As with all things social, the 'come from' is critical. If platforms like promotional tweets consciously or unconsciously cause brands to default to their me first mentality, the social ecosystem will rightly reject them. Watching with interest what happens. Thanks again, Mahei.

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