March 3, 2010 -- Get ready to see some ads on your favorite micro-blogging site.
Twitter, the service with which you "tweet" by sending micro-messages of no more than 140 characters to your "followers" was founded in 2006 but really started to gain traction outside of the techie crowd in late 2008. Almost everyone has heard of Twitter, even though most are not sure what you really do with it. Twitter has about 27 million users (about 19 percent of the adults using the Internet). The majority of users post very short messages about what they are doing, about to do or thinking at the time they are tweeting. They also post links so you can get more information. When used this way Twitter adds immediacy to social media and further connects users.
Twitter has had several phases of growth fueled by news events or adoption by celebrities. About half of Fortune 500 companies have Twitter accounts. Many accounts have been opened in anticipation of being able to gain followers who might be able to be converted into consumers one day. So it is with great anticipation that the advertising community awaits the announcement by Twitter about how they will structure their advertising platform. An announcement is expected sometime in the next few weeks.
We don't know a lot about exactly how Twitter will serve ads to its users. But here is what we do know: Twitter does not consider itself a Web site but rather an open platform. It gives developer's access to its API (Application Programming Interface) and they in turn develop all kinds of widgets, Web sites, applications and other projects that interact with Twitter.
Twitter ads will probably be served when a user initiates a search. Let's say, for instance, you initiate a search inside of Twitter for a popular movie you would like to see. This could generate an ad promoting The Academy Awards on ABC. This will only show up in a search so someone using their Twitter account to write messages would not be served an ad. The ad would be in Twitter's 140 characters or less format.
Twitter is expected to work with advertising agencies and media companies in the beginning but much like Google, will allow anyone to visit their site and negotiate to use the service. Twitter also shows up in a lot of different places embedded into Web sites and applications. Twitter is expected to share revenue with any of those services who display the ads.
Can Twitter Users Avoid Ads?
There is speculation that there might be a premium, fee-based service for those who don't want advertisements. There are about 50 million tweets a day. Many of the tweets are already commercial such as Sears Cash for Appliance Clunkers program which sent out tweets promoting its service. But the new ad model would reach many more users.
Many technorati believe that Twitter is somewhat of a fad with limited long term appeal. They cite the statistic that as many as 60 percent of the people who sign up for a Twitter account have abandoned it within 30 days. There is also a large group who believe Twitter is here to stay -- their strongest argument is that the Web is going mobile and Twitter is tailor-made for use on mobile devices.
As it adds advertising, Twitter has to tread softly because consumers will have low tolerance for messages that are too intrusive. Further, advertisers will have to master the platform and figure out the best way to use a short message to push people to where they can find sound and moving pictures. What types of offers will work best in this intimate and immediate atmosphere?
When I was a kid, me and the kid next door got two tin cans and some string, poked holes in the cans and pulled the string through. We then knotted the ends and pulled the string tight between our two houses. Late at night we talked to each other. As I remember it, we could hear each other clearly even as we whispered, alternately putting the can to our mouths or ears. It was magical. We really didn't have anything to say to each other but it was fun to just connect.
If an advertiser could have been on the line as well we might have tolerated them as long as they didn't interrupt our conversation and they told us something we wanted to hear like a preview of the next "Batman" episode or a sneak preview about what the next prize would be in our favorite cereal box.
Note to Twitter: proceed with caution.
The work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Larry Woodard is president and CEO of Vigilante, a New York-based advertising agency that develops consumer-centric advertising campaigns. He is also chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies New York Council and the recipient of many prestigious industry awards, including two O'Toole Awards for Agency of the Year, the London International Award, Gold Effie, Telly, Mobius, Addy's and the Cannes Gold Lion. A blogger and a frequent public speaker, Woodard enjoys discussing the intersection of media, politics, entertainment and technology.