Twitter Hires Sales Force From Yelp, Facebook

Meanwhile, Virgin America Uses Automated Tool to Buy Tweets

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NEW YORK ( -- Want to buy an ad on Twitter? Now there's someone to call.

The micro-blog service, which still classifies itself as "pre-revenue," has an enormous user base and a few fledging ad units -- with more on the way. And now it has started building out a sales team starting with two hires: Facebook veteran Dan Coughlin and Yelp's first salesperson, Amanda Levy.

Both will be charged with building out a team to move what Twitter is calling its Promoted Suite, or Twitter ads that today consist of promoted tweets and promoted trends. While Twitter's ad deals and promotions have been experimental thus far, the plan is to ramp up revenue in fourth quarter while trying out different types of ad units.

Twitter has a few ad deals and promotions under its belt, but developing a sales team is key to moving from a global phenomenon to real business. "We're putting together a top-flight sales team as we begin to open our Promoted Suite of products to more companies," said Twitter COO Dick Costolo.

Mr. Coughlin will lead East Coast sales and Ms. Levy will head West Coast sales. Both report to Mr. Costolo.

The micro-blog service sees traditional ads -- or its version of traditional ads -- as one of four potential revenue streams for the company. The others include commerce, such as the promotions for Disney and JetBlue through its Earlybird Offers service; commercial accounts, which include access to data and analytics; and the data feed itself, which Twitter charges the likes of Google, Microsoft's Bing and Yahoo for.

AllthingsD reported last month that Twitter is mulling the addition of a "promoted user" unit, which would, in effect, allow people or companies to pay for more Twitter followers. That could fit with Twitter's recently introduced "who to follow" feature. Twitter declined to comment but did say that there will be much experimentation over the next few months, some of which will be made public and some conducted discretely, to figure out what sticks.

Because Twitter is a distributed service largely accessed by its 160 million users through third-party apps, the uniting principal is that all Twitter ad units have to travel where the tweets go.

So far, Coke, Disney, Sony and News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox have been high-profile advertisers on "promoted trends," which appear beneath the top 10 organic "trends" on Twitter's home page, while Virgin America has been using "promoted tweets" since it launched in April.

Porter Gale, VP-marketing at Virgin America, said the marketer has been using an automated dashboard to buy Twitter's first unit, the promoted tweet, but the company still picks up the phone for Twitter's advice on how to make its commercial tweets more authentic.

"They are a very collaborative partner, and we do ask them for support and advice," she said. "We ask them, 'What do you think?'"

Virgin America is one of a few marketers that has used all forms of Twitter ad units -- tweets, trends and Earlybird -- and it used all three for its recent $39 fare sale. That campaign generated the fourth-biggest sales day in Virgin's history, Ms. Gale said, with more than 10,000 bookings.

Twitter stresses that its commerce offering, EarlyBird, is nascent and that additional features are coming. Right now, all Twitter users see the same offer, but Shiva Rajaraman, product manager for Twitter's commerce initiatives, said he'd like to see the offers target segment, user interest and location.

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