How Some Fresh Could Solve Twitter's Revenue Problem

An Easy Way to Bring Advertising Into the Link Economy

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If you haven't heard of, don't worry, you're not alone. This five-person startup founded by Alan Chan and funded by Lady Gaga's manager, Troy Carter, among others, has been flying pretty much under the radar (save for short post on Mashable). But this simple platform holds much potential for brand and celebrity involvement, especially in the hands of Twitter -- and it's launching to the public today.

On the surface, is a URL shortener, though instead of focusing on custom URLs and link-tracking like others in the space, it has built a social layer -- and with it, an opportunity for brands -- on top of the "content sharing" user-behavior that defines every social network.

Here's how it works. I shorten a link with Bread -- either through their site or by typing in "" in front of the url of any page I'm on (a nifty little trick they've designed but I'd still prefer a chrome extension). From there, I can tweet it, post it to Facebook, or share it however and wherever I want for the world to click - and this is where things get interesting. Instead of being taken directly to the site, those who click the link are first shown an image selected from roster the user has designated in advance, for 5 seconds. This can be likened to an interstitial ad of sorts, though the "bakers" at prefer to call it a "personal digital billboard." In those few seconds, the 'clicker' has an opportunity to "toast" the image -- or in Facebook terms, to "like" it. Once you've toasted someone else's image, it's automatically entered into your own roster of possible images to be shown to people the next time you post something via

I met with Alan a few weeks ago and we discussed ways brands and celebrities might use the service, and I definitely saw potential, to say the least. Think about the millions of Twitter and Facebook users who click on every link their favorite celebrity posts. Lady Gaga tweets a link to a recent interview and her followers are first shown an image of her new album cover, touting its release data. Kim Kardashian tweets a picture of her new engagement ring but upon clicking, her fans are first taken to an ad for Carl's Jr. (or whatever she's shilling these days).

I spoke with Ted Hong, Fandango's CMO, who was similarly intrigued by's ability to span the marketing and entertainment arenas. "I think it's a really interesting form of promotion that leverages social media in a way that I have not previously seen," Mr. Hong told me via email. "Both brands and entertainment properties can now promote in a very organic way via the most targeted and relevant social media entities for their particular needs. For example, you can imagine CBS asking Ashton Kutcher to use to promote tune in for 'Two and a Half Men' in front of his Twitter posts. [It's a] unique opportunity for celebrities to show advocacy for a cause or project via social media," he added, and as a consequence, "people may become more thoughtful about what they share and what kind of 'toasts' they place in front of the content that they share."

Anyone who's seen NBC's "The Voice" knows how hard Twitter is working to situate the platform as powerful compliment to traditional entertainment media as the best way to increase the platform's adoption in the mainstream. Couple that imperative with their need for revenue and seems like an ideal marriage, in that it leverages a preexisting and ubiquitous behavior, but in such a way that none of the advertising would take place on Twitter itself and thus avoids tarnishing the native user experience (though admittedly not so once you've left the site) – something industry pundits and tech bloggers have feared unavoidable in Twitter's journey to revenue.

In fact, when Twitter CEO Dick Costolo discussed the 'success' of their current ad products, promoted tweets and trends, at the recent D9 conference, many speculated that they've intentionally kept its users to a minimum as to not over-saturate their users' streams with ads, effectively self-imposing a limit to their own revenue-generation. Attaching ad units to links that you only see when clicking OUT of Twitter would serve to deliver an ad product to marketers without making that sacrifice.

On top of that , Twitter would effectively be building interest graph facilitating and analyzing the "toasts" - essentially endorsements for the branded image a user identifies with the most. Imagine if this system were baked into Twitter (pun intended) so that any time you hit the "tweet" button on a website or post a link via, everyone who clicks it is shown an ad that they can then "toast."

Here's what would happen:

Costolo also said at D9 that a billion tweets are "handled" every six days, while a Twitter spokesperson recently told Ad Age that roughly 25% of tweets contain links (a metric consistent with what was announced in September, though a recent survey by Sysmos of one-day's worth of tweets claims that number to be a bit lower).

Do the math. If all those links were fed through this service and just one person clicked on each link posted, that 's 41,666,666 ad impressions right there. An instantly viable, inherently social, ad product built on top of a user behavior that for all intents and purposes, defines the platform, and that would forever put to rest the fears of an ad-filled twitter feed while immediately reaching a minimum of 41 million pairs of eyeballs.

Sure, that 's a big if, so let's look at it another way: Twitter's President of Revenue, Adam Bain, recently announced that 80% of 'engagement' on Twitter comes in the form of link clicking.

So that 's 175 million registered users, 80% of whom are actively clicking on links, while sending out 165 million tweets per day, 25% of which contain links.

If you can crunch those numbers for me, please do. But it's clear that you've got a whole lot of people clicking on a whole lot of links. It seems pretty obvious to me that somewhere in that mess of metrics lays the answer to what may be Twitter's only problem.

Based on Troy Carter's support and Lady Gaga's prominence in the instructional video, I wouldn't be surprised if we see the mother monster herself using the service in the near future, so keep your eyes peeled to see if her followers revolt or embrace to new layer of content, endorsing and sharing Gaga-branded digital billboards.

Check out the video below and let us know what you think. Is this the solution to Twitter's revenue problem or will it piss users off just as much as ads in the stream?

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