News Publishers Start Seeking Money From Twitter Feeds

Not Selling Paid Tweets Yet, but Other Approaches Are Rising

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Kim Kardashian can ask $10,000 just for sending a marketer's tweet to her 2.8 million followers on Twitter, traditional news companies have to wonder whether they can cash in too.

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Since last month, major Canadian news publisher Canoe has used a service from Assetize that inserts an advertising bar on top of pages that get shouted out in participating Twitter feeds.
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Many news sites have successfully harnessed Twitter to distribute their stories and build their audiences, after all, but they aren't making money from news tweets yet. Now, though, early exploration is emerging from Los Angeles to New York to Montreal.

Paid-tweet purveyor Ad.ly, the 4-month-old Los Angeles startup, has pitched its services for the most obvious approach, inserting paid tweets among news tweets. So far the big takers are individuals such as Ms. Kardashian, but Ad.ly says major publishers are coming to the table, too.

The New York Times isn't ready to try paid tweets, despite nearly 2.3 million followers for its main Twitter feed -- heady enough territory to ape Ms. Kardashian if it wanted to. "We're taking a bit of a wait-and-see approach on that one," said Denise Warren, senior VP-chief advertising officer at The New York Times Media Group. "We want to be sure that audiences really understand the difference between the paid tweet and the real tweet."

Instead, however, The New York Times Online has started selling packages of ads that appear specifically for visitors who arrive through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Advertisers can buy certain shares of such readers, typically around 25%, so a page receiving a million visitors via social media would show a participating marketer's ad to 250,000 of them.

The effort, begun last fall, is still too young to gauge. "I couldn't give you projections yet for what we think this is going to yield," Ms. Warren said, declining to identify advertisers that have bought the program. "What we've seen, like most publishers, is that there's more of an acceptance by marketers to embrace these kinds of tools. We're definitely seeing much more interest in these programs."

It's one way to try monetizing all the traffic arriving through Twitter and other social media, but Canoe, a major Canadian news publisher based in Montreal, has just started trying something even more directly tied to its news tweets. Since last month, it's used a service from Assetize that inserts an advertising bar on top of pages that get shouted out in participating Twitter feeds.

There's room for the publisher's branding and an ad message, plus buttons encouraging retweets and ad sales. So far Canoe is using the advertising bar to promote itself, displaying the Canoe logo and messages like "@canadapolitics shared this article through the Canoe network." But ads from outside marketers might be coming next.

"They've given us ample opportunity to present advertising or sponsorship in that space," said David Newland, who was editor in chief at Canoe before being named its first director of social media. "We're interested in potentially going that route, depending on what happens."

Mr. Newland isn't ready for paid tweets yet either, but like more and more in the news business, he's eager to figure out what might work. "I'm very conscious of people's sensitivities around advertising in any new medium," he said. "We don't want to tick people off. At the same time, we are in the business of doing business."

"I don't think we're the only ones scratching our heads and asking, 'How does a big company use a micro media?'" Mr. Newland added.

That process of exploration seems likely to deliver paid tweets to news feeds sooner or later. Assetize and critics argue that paid tweets are an interruption and alienate followers. Ad.ly CEO Sean Rad believes tweets are media like any other, perfectly able to carry advertising as long as it's relevant and used with restraint.

"Twitter is like blogging in the early days," Mr. Rad said. "You had people using blogging in the beginning as a toy to express their behind-the-scenes thoughts. Then you had it shift into this very serious platform. Twitter's the same thing."

It's not clear how much money could be in play for news publishers. Ad.ly's prices range from $1 up through the Kardashian $10,000, depending on the Twitterer, or about $1 to $3 to reach a thousand consumers. That's a higher rate than ad networks get but lower than standard display advertising costs on the web.

Ad.ly, which connects participating Twitterers with advertisers, plans to introduce an algorithm this month that will tie pricing for paid tweets with the quality of each feed, considering factors such as retweets and how much advertising the feed runs. "Advertisers have the peace of mind knowing that they're paying based on a performance value of the publisher," Mr. Rad said. "The Twitter ecosystem is happy because everyone is incentivized not to spam and to have a great quality stream."

No big news publishers have signed on yet; The Daily Beast, Tina Brown's site, signed up for a trial but never ran ads. But, Mr. Rad said, news sites are intrigued. "Obviously the larger ones are more careful, but a lot are interested in coming on," he said.

Follow Nat Ives on Twitter.

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