Twitter's New Ad Model Is Way Too Subtle

Last Updated Apr 14, 2010 1:34 PM EDT

Big News! Twitter Gets a Business Model! Word has come down to us mere mortals that the little company that made 140-character-long messages famous has arrived at a way to make revenue: Ads. Yes, the Twitter business brain trust has decided to embrace the same revenue source that virtually everyone else in the social networking business has adopted. However, it is being as cautious about the implementation as it has been about finding a business model in the first place. And that's bad news for the company, because the ad industry is one where subtlety rarely works.

Here's how Twitter describes how it will implement the ad program:

  • Ads come in the form of promotional tweets from advertisers.
  • Promotional tweets at the start only come from a small group of advertisers: Best Buy (BBY), Sony Pictures (SNE), Virgin America, Bravo (NBCU), and Starbucks (SBUX).
  • Promotional tweets appear only at the top of some search results and, then, only one per page.
Once management has decided what works and what doesn't, it will "allow Promoted Tweets to be shown by Twitter clients and other ecosystem partners and to expand beyond Twitter search, including displaying relevant Promoted Tweets in your timelines in a way that is useful to you."

I'm not arguing for more ads, mind you, but one ad per search page results? Sure, it lets them test some things out, but it also greatly limits revenue. My guess is that most Twitter users spend the bulk of their time actually reading or posting messages, not doing searches. So the company has greatly limited what it can make.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote in the blog post that the company would eventually expand promotional tweets into users' time lines, the flow of messages they see. Have you ever watched a time line? The mass of material that floats by is huge, and you might only see a small portion because most people are not glued to watching Twitter. I understand that it's important to Twitter that the ads seem "organic" and part of the existing experience, but that's not what advertisers pay for. They want the ability to catch the attention of the audience and pull it away from everything else. Eventually, the investors who put so much money into the company will want those advertisers to be happy -- and pay money.

Either subtlety will go to the winds or Twitter's hope of making real money and keeping its investors happy will. My bet is that subtle winds up at the side of the road.

Image: carrotcreative

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.