Twitter Pushes Ads Into the Timeline -- Again

20 Marketers Including Virgin America, Sephora and Starbucks Trying New Ad Service

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If you follow a brand, get ready to see more ads in your stream. Twitter is "enhancing" its promoted tweets feature, the company announced in a blog post today, to help make sure users don't miss promoted updates from the brands they follow.

For those brands who choose to buy into this the new feature, Twitter will place the brand's tweets at the top of a user's stream -- only on Twitter.com for now -- so that no matter when the user logs in or refreshes his or her screen, the latest update from a brand the user follows will appear at the top of the timeline. Typical tweets are easy to miss if users aren't looking at their screen. The paid tweets will only appear once and can be dismissed from the timeline with a single click.

A promoted tweet from JetBlue.
A promoted tweet from JetBlue.

Twitter tested sending ads into Hootsuite users' timelines seven months ago, but those promoted tweets included marketers that users aren't following.

Twitter said it will limit the amount of ads a user may see in a given period of time, but it hasn't settled on a specific boundary. Insiders say users could see as many as four or five ads in a session, provided they already follow the brands placing sponsored tweets.

Initial testing will include about 20 marketers, including Virgin America, Sephora and Starbucks, which will each be bidding to push their ads into a user's timeline. That means a marketer could be bidding against no one, or against 20 other brands if there are enough users who follow that many companies.

Brands bid on a per-engagement price and only pay when the user engages with the promoted tweet -- in other words, the tweet costs money only when users click, reply, favorite or retweet the tweet.

"This solves the problem of what we've heard from our users," said Twitter's sales chief, Adam Bain. "Users told us, 'We want these brands' updates, offers and product information, and we're bummed when we miss them.'"

Mr. Bain said he believes there won't be the kinds of complaints that Twitter got when it launched the QuickBar in March -- a feature that suggested topics for users. Twitter had to almost immediately suspend the overlay bar that appeared on the iPhone Twitter app because of user outrage at the feature's intrusiveness.

The promoted tweets now being introduced will only appear to users who want to communicate with these marketers. "These users opted in to following these brands, so they have already indicated they want to hear from them," Mr. Bain said, explaining that followers will get exclusive content, such as sneak peeks at episodes of HBO's "True Blood."

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