NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Starting today, Twitter will drop advertising into individual users' Twitter streams, also known as timelines, according to people familiar with the matter. Longstanding Twitter advertisers Virgin, Starbucks and Red Bull have bought into this new service.
Marketers have already been able to buy what is called a Promoted Tweet that appears at the top of searches on Twitter.com. But this new kind of paid ad would appear in a user's Twitter stream regardless of whether they follow that advertiser or search for anything on Twitter. Users will be targeted based on the kinds of people and products they already follow, though not all users will necessarily see ads. For example, someone who follows other coffee companies or who follows people who write about coffee would be a target candidate for a Starbucks-paid Tweet.
The company will start with a smaller pool of its 175 million users by showing the paid tweets only to people who use HootSuite, a popular third-party client. The Vancouver-based startup, which has amassed a following of more than 900,000 users, will get a cut of the revenue, while Twitter will sell the advertising. According to insiders, the company will eventually roll out these ads to other Twitter readers, as well as to Twitter.com, depending upon the effectiveness of the advertising. Twitter declined to comment for this story.
"We look forward to working with Twitter to roll this program out and carefully gauge people's reactions," HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes said. "With Twitter's commitment to quality user experience and ad relevance, we're confident these new types of tweets will be enjoyed by both users and advertisers."
Showing an advertisement within the stream of any Twitter user is a significant change, as some users may see it as a disruption or even an intrusion into their typical Twitter experience. CEO Dick Costolo told Ad Age in April that the company would be looking at possibly selling advertising into a user's timeline in the fourth quarter of this year, though he cautioned it would happen slowly. "Is it great in search and horrible in the timeline? We are going to test and test and test," Mr. Costolo said at the time.
Twitter's other ad products also started out with a smaller segment of users. Promoted Tweets, for example, initially appeared on searches on Twitter.com, and the company only recently allowed third-party Twitter readers such as HootSuite and TweetDeck to display these Promoted Tweets, for which they also got a cut of the revenue. Advertisers have also been buying Twitter's other ad product, Promoted Trends, which show up at the top of a list of trending topics on Twitter.com. This list is generally seen by a smaller segment of Twitter users, as many use third-party clients, not all of which show the trend list.
The new timeline ads are said to function as an extensions of Promoted Tweets which are targeted by keyword. Those ads only appear at the top of searches; the new ads will scroll by as a normal tweet would.
Interestingly, Twitter banned third-party clients from injecting any kind of paid tweets into a user's timeline in May, stating on the company's blog that "third-party ad networks are not necessarily looking to preserve the unique user experience Twitter has created."
The San Francisco-based company has been rapidly expanding, growing from 140 employees in February to more than 300 today. Included in this roster is former News Corp. executive Adam Bain, who came to Twitter in August as head of revenue. He manages an ambitious coterie of regional sales executives that include Brent Hill, formerly of Google; Amanda Levy, who came from Yelp; and ex-Facebook director of media sales Dan Coughlin.
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