Twitter debuts Promoted Tweets; Virgin America, Starbucks among first to use service

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Twitter launched its Promoted Tweets service, which allows advertisers to buy sponsored links on the social networking site, on April 13. Marketers including Starbucks, Best Buy and Virgin America are using the service at its launch.

The technology is based on consumer acceptance. If a Promoted Tweet “resonates with users,” it will show up in a Twitter search. A company blog post explained that the ads will appear at the top of some search results pages.

“We strongly believe that Promoted Tweets should be useful to you,” the company said in the blog post. “We'll attempt to measure whether the Tweets resonate with users and stop showing Promoted Tweets that don't resonate.”

The service “provides a new and interesting way for buying media in a social channel,” said Augie Ray, senior analyst at Forrester Research.

“That being said, brands have to be very cautious, because unlike paid media of old where you bought attention, you are only buying the opportunity for attention,” he said.

Ray added that the service will help Twitter monetize its business model.

“The broader their revenue base, the more viable and less risky their business becomes,” he said.

The launch includes paid Tweets from a handful of advertising partners, including Virgin America, Starbucks, Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull and Sony Pictures.

Among Virgin's initial Promoted Tweets is an ad called “Send us your best geek moment,” which encourages consumers to share photos of themselves using technology in-flight.

The ad's impetus was a conversation Virgin America customers had about the iPad launch.

“We're trying to use the Promoted Tweets to enhance the conversation with our existing followers, and we are making sure that the conversations are relevant and feel authentic,” said Porter Gale, VP of marketing at Virgin America.

Another Virgin America Promoted Tweet gave the first 500 consumers who signed up to follow @virginamerica a promotion code to book two-for-one flights during a part of April 13.

“The people that are following us want to fly us and want good deals, so we are rewarding our best customers for following us,” added Gale.

Starbucks' Promoted Tweet reads, “On 4/15 bring a reusable tumbler and we'll fill it with brewed coffee for free. Let's all switch from paper cups.” It also has a link to a page explaining Starbucks' environmental philosophy.

“Starbucks is approaching this well,” said Ray, “because if they just Tweet a good deal, it could scroll off their Tweet deck quickly or get buried under a user's news feed. Now, they have a way of keeping their specials on screens.”

However, Ray warns that brands shouldn't only use Promoted Tweets to support deals.

“Brands have to approach this as an opportunity to create dialogue and value,” he said. “They shouldn't reach out to Twitter followers only to get them addicted to deals. It is not in the best interests of brands in the long run to approach it this way.”

Consumers can view Promoted Tweets as if they are normal Tweets. Twitter users can reply, retweet and mark them as favorites.

During the test phase, Twitter is displaying only one Promoted Tweet per search results page. However, the social networking site may expand sponsored search results, according to the company's blog.

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