A First Take on Twitter's In-Stream Ads

Notes From a Hootsuite Power User

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David Teicher
David Teicher
Anyone who has worked with me or has seen me on Twitter knows that I'm a huge Hootsuite fan. One of my first popular blog posts reviewed its service and touted its features as the best for professional use.

Fandom aside, delivering sponsored tweets -- ads -- into my Twitter stream without negatively affecting my experience isn't so simple. I'm quite the serious Hootsuite user, with seven tabs, countless columns, numerous search feeds, integration with Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, my blog, and multiple accounts, including two personal Twitter accounts and access to Ad Age's Twitter account -- I have painstakingly tweaked and customized the UI so it is most conducive to my needs. You would be surprised how much one innocuous sponsored tweet, seemingly unobtrusive, could throw things off, if implemented poorly.

So far, the only sponsored tweets I've seen have been for Bing and Verizon Wireless, and they show up almost every time my main feed is refreshed, at the top of the list of tweets, like a sponsored link would among search results. To Hootsuite and Twitter's credit, I'm much more likely to be interested in content related to the search engine and mobile arena than I am, say, Red Bull, another launch partner. So whatever algorithm they're using to target ads to user interests isn't bad.

What's odd is that I've had two completely different experiences since the ads started popping up, each predicated on the size of my screen. At work, my monitor is a comfortable 19 inches (I think), so the ads that appear aren't very intrusive, and only stand out because of the yellow "Promoted By____" banner that appears underneath the sponsored tweet.

At home, on my netbook, well, that's a different story. In sacrificing power for portability, everything is crammed into a mere five-by-eight-inch rectangle. Hootsuite, for all its HTML 5 glory, is not optimized for such small screens and as such, an already cluttered dashboard becomes even more cramped when the top of my Twitter feed is taken over by an ad. The three-four tweet visibility was bad enough before, and cutting that in half to make room for a sponsored tweet doesn't improve the situation.

Long-term netbook market viability aside, the ads make Hootsuite unusable on the devices. I'm not sure how they plan on integrating the ads into Hootsuite's mobile and tablet applications, as the same issue of real estate will come into play, but whatever the solution, I would suggest making that option available to netbook users.

There are other questions too, like if and how the sponsored tweets will find their way into Twitter lists -- heavily curated by protective creators, or into search feeds, like the ones you can set up in Hootsuite to follow a conversation, topic, or conference in real-time.

All in all, it's not the end of the Twitterverse that many predicted might occur upon the introduction of in-steam ads. It's not perfect yet, but it is proof of concept -- promoted tweets are a viable means of generating revenue for the Twitter ecosystem (assuming brands are happy with the ROI) and can be executed without completely disrupting the experience or instigating backlash. I think it's safe to say that any remaining questions about Twitter's business model and profitability can be put to rest.

David Teicher is Ad Age's social media and event content manager. Follow him on Twitter @Aerocles.
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