Twitter began the roll-out of its long-awaited self-serve ad platform with electronic payments enabled -- a cornerstone of its revenue model -- in mid-November with a group of fewer than 20 advertisers.
A self-serve tool has been planned since Twitter unveiled promoted tweets with six advertisers in April 2010. But the company has been methodical in rolling out advertising products and has grown its customer base of advertisers buying promoted tweets, accounts and trends slowly.
There are 2,400 advertisers on Twitter, split between the direct sales team, which handles Fortune 250 company accounts, and the inside sales team, focused on small- and midsize businesses, which comprise major global brands as well as firms with just a handful of employees.
The advertisers using the self-serve platform are small and midsize businesses, and they can make payments with credit cards rather than be invoiced. The ultimate goal is for advertisers to set up campaigns without ever making contact with a Twitter sales rep, in the vein of Google AdWords and Facebook's self-serve platform, but the advertisers in this launch were already customers.
"This is an important step in continuing to grow Twitter's business," the company said in a statement. "Our promoted products can help small and medium-sized businesses build their audience on Twitter and better engage with the people they want to reach. As with all of our advertising efforts, we're starting small, testing carefully and making improvements as we learn what works. We will slowly roll this capability out to more advertisers in the coming weeks and months."
EMarketer projects that Twitter's global ad revenue will reach $139.5 million in 2011, up from $45 million in 2010, and will approach $400 million in 2013. Revenue generated by the self-serve platform is an important part of the future targets. EMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson noted that 60% of Facebook's ad revenue is estimated to come from its self-serve platform, which was introduced in 2007.
Ms. Williamson thinks Twitter has been focused on executing self-serve without muddying the user experience or opening the floodgates to spam-like advertising, which is what Facebook dealt with in the early days of its self-serve.
"Hopefully they've built a better mousetrap," she said.