Why Twitter Advertising Could Be A Huge Success

The target is easy.

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I've been using Tweetie's great Twitter app for the iPhone this week (check out the handy bookmarklet for super-easy linking) after moving up from Twitterrific. While I'm scrolling through my recent tweets, I actually notice: There's no advertisement.

And you know what? For the first time ever, in any medium, I sort of missed it. The arguments for and against hosting ads on Twitter are still raging, and the company still hasn't shown its hand when it comes to a real business plan. But I'm betting Twitter will surprise everyone if it can get its act together connecting users with advertisers for a couple of reasons:

It's honest.  If you host an ad, mark it as such (Twitterrific does), and no problem. A (small) number of ads don't clutter up my feed and if free services mean a pitch or two, well, I'll suffer through it just like I do on Facebook and The New York Times. I'm not talking about experience-killing ads like Twitter spam or marketers pretending to be users to infiltrate my feeds. Well-defined, unobtrusive ads are a separate animal, and unlike banner ads, I actually notice them when they're mixed in with my tweets.

I can tell advertisers what I want. I'll warily admit it: Serving up advertising based on my hashtags might actually be welcome. If I'm getting excited about #susanboyle, an iTunes link to her (possible) duet with Elaine Paige would actually be a help. Since I'm the one having the conversation and choosing to join a group tweeting the same, why (again) would a single ad nestled amid my latest tweets and addressing something I'm legitimately interested in be a problem? The entire concept of Twitter is so specific and the discussion is so user-controlled that it should almost be a gift for advertisers. I'm telling them what I want. I have to pick the hash, and find out who else is using it. That weeds out inconsistent searches and should eventually wrap up my interests like a gift for anyone who wants to sell me something. So does using multiple hashes per tweet.

As a relative Twitter newbie I know I'm a bit new to this debate, so thoughts and corrections are welcome. Jason Calacanis, for example, wrote back in December:

Imagine if every 10th, 20th, or 100th tweet was an advertisement. Would that be so horrible? No, not at all. “your free Twitter account is brought to you by Apple’s iPhone” would be perfectly acceptable to users and advertisers on the web. These ads will get solid click through if targeted well…. also they could be display/visual ads that really “pop” off the page since Twitter pages are text based (as opposed to say Flickr where the graphical ads would compete with the photos)."

Still, compared to the rest of the business models I've seen for Twitter, advertising seems the most promising.

  • Kirk Shinkle

    Kirk Shinkle is a senior editor for U.S. News Money and manages the Best Funds portal. Follow him on Twitter @KirkS or email him at kshinkle@usnews.com.

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