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Twitter kicks off Promoted Tweets

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 signed up to use the service at its launch.

Twitter created the technology to display the ads based on consumer acceptance. If a Promoted Tweet “resonates with users,” it will appear in a Twitter search, according to the company.

A Twitter 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,” Twitter founder Biz Stone said in a company blog post. “We’ll attempt to measure whether the Tweets resonate with users and stop showing Promoted Tweets that don’t resonate.”

But not everyone is convinced of its significance.

In a post on social media expert Mike Moran’s blog, fellow industry observer Frank Reed said, “Twitter assures us that it will be stressing relevance of ads. Well, Google did the same for AdWords and that is still a work in progress. By the way… Twitter is no Google.”

Among Virgin America’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 was inspired by a conversation Virgin America customers had about the iPad launch. Porter Gale, VP of marketing at Virgin America, said that his company’s goal is to improve customer engagement via Twitter.

“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 Gale.

Another Virgin America Promoted Tweet gave the first 500 consumers who followed @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,” Gale continued.

Virgin also plans to use Twitter to announce new destination airports. For a week, Virgin will use only Twitter to promote the new destination, before conducting digital and print marketing.

“We want to see how the buzz builds,” said Gale.

Virgin’s Twitter strategy is to keep messages to 120 characters, so the content can be easily re-Tweeted and spread virally.

Virgin is also measuring the success of its social campaigns by adding Omniture tags to its social media pages.

“We do know if someone has visited us on Facebook or Twitter and then booked a flight on our site,” said Gale. “We do know that social media attention leads to conversion.”

Innovative social media ad platforms, such as Promoted Tweets, could affect the amount of money spent on search engine advertising. Search and display-related advertising represents the largest percentage of overall interactive ad spend, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Last year, search revenues comprised 47% of online advertising spending, totaling nearly $10.7 billion. However, innovative services like Promoted Tweets could help to shift more money from search to social media, said Augie Ray, senior analyst at Forrester Research.

“Search is not going to go away, but there is a shift that is occurring, as consumers find out a great deal about products and sites that may interest them from their social graphs instead of needing to search,” he said.

David Berkowitz, senior director of emerging media and innovation at 360i, said only brands that are well versed in Twitter will effectively know how to use the platform. That means search advertising spending won’t be affected in the short term.

“I don’t think this is going to hurt search because it really starts out as a social media program first,” said Berkowitz. “Marketers will have to be very good at using Twitter for Promoted Tweets to be effective, so they will work best for amplifying what marketers are already doing on Twitter.”

Other marketers, such as Starbucks, Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull and Sony Pictures, are also pitching products and services via Promoted Tweets.

Starbucks, for instance, is using the service to raise awareness of its environmental efforts. Its first paid Tweet read, “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 linked 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 Tweetdeck quickly or get buried under a user’s news feed. Now, they have a way of keeping their specials on screens.”

Consumers can treat Promoted Tweets as they would any other message on the social networking service. Twitter users can reply, re-Tweet and mark them as favorites.

During the initial phase, Twitter is displaying only one Promoted Tweet per search results page. However, the social networking site said on its blog that it could expand the sponsored search results.

Ray adds that brands must be cautious while using the service, “because unlike paid media of old where you bought attention, you are only buying the opportunity for attention.”

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