The missing link in Twitter's ad program

A future version of Promoted Tweets needs to include the user base

The “Twitter Business Model Watch” is officially (and thankfully) over.

Web 2.0 Expo San FranciscoAnnounced today, Twitter’s Promoted Tweets advertising program is supposed to help companies offset the limited window of attention that’s common to the real-time web. The new ads, which have the look and behavior of normal tweets, will float like corks at the top of Twitter search results. The feature will roll out to user accounts down the line. (Advertising Age has an example of a Promoted Tweet.)

I’ve run a few non-scientific tests on the shelf-life of a tweet, and most burn bright for three or four minutes and then fizzle into obscurity. It’s tough to build a brand campaign around that. So the “cork” innovation is quite clever.

Linking ads to search queries is smart, too. We’re all aware it often yields good results. And I’m intrigued by the assortment of views, clicks and retweets that will influence Twitter’s new “resonance” metric. Clearly, there’s been a lot of deep thought in the halls of Twitter.

But there’s something missing here.

If Twitter really wants to emulate Google, as this New York Times article suggests, it needs to empower the little guy. Not the little advertiser. The little user.

The true genius of Google’s AdSense program lies in its inclusiveness. It gives small web publishers a fast and easy revenue stream. Now, most only make a few bucks per month. I realize that. But that meager money represents a whole lot more than the “absolutely nothing” publishers were earning pre-AdSense. And if you’ve got SEO chops and a lot of luck, you might beat the average.

It’s early and I’m undoubtedly jumping the gun, but I’d love to see Twitter create something similar to AdSense. Perhaps opening up the Promoted Tweets dashboard to users and third-party developers so those folks can connect with advertisers. A three-month snapshot of any particular user’s tweet stream reveals a lot about their favorite topics. Connecting relevant businesses and giving users a revenue share is a logical extension.

Or, if direct payment feels wrong, let users post Promoted Tweets that float at the top of their own streams. A “custom cork” that gives precedence to a particular blog post or event or cause. If it resonates with the user base, it could then get wider play through the formal advertising/promotion program. That seems far more useful than bombarding the Twittersphere with the same desperate tweets over and over again.

It’s important to note that AdSense emerged years after Google’s AdWords program launched. The AdWords-AdSense ecosystem we now know required a lot of time and iteration. And along those lines, Twitter is going out of its way to characterize Promoted Tweets as a work in progress. So perhaps expansion of the sort I’m hoping for is already on the drawing board.

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