Twitter today will begin injecting ads into its users' timelines, including on third-party clients. The embrace of so-called in-stream ads is a key step toward the company's goal of scaling its nascent "Promoted Products" ad platform, which has to date been limited to Promoted Tweets ads on its search results pages and two out-of-the-way ad types on the homepage - Promoted Trends and Promoted Accounts.
A limited test of the new API ad strategy begins today on HootSuite, and will eventually extend to other clients such as TweetDeck and Seesmic. (Updated Nov. 2: ClickZ spotted an ad on HootSuite, pictured left, for Virgin America.)
The introduction of ads to the stream marks the final phase of a three-stage rollout envisioned six months ago in April, when then-COO, now-CEO Dick Costolo first described the ad platform. The first two phases were the introduction of search ads on its site, and the later syndication of those search ads to third parties.
As with Twitter's Promoted Accounts ad placement, in-stream ads will be targeted based in part on whom a user follows. And like Promoted Tweets, ads will be targeted based on performance, or as a Twitter spokesperson put it, "how well an ad resonates."
Results will only be announced gradually as Twitter assesses the effectiveness of its in-stream ads and their impact on the user experience. "We want to display Promoted Tweets in a way that’s both useful and authentic to the Twitter experience," the company noted in a blog post today.
It's not clear how many Hootsuite users will see the ads during the test phase or how quickly Twitter will ramp up reach and frequency. "We will expand the rollout only when we feel we're delivering a high-quality user experience," is all the company would say.
While the addition of ad placements to the timeline might seem to signify Twitter's arrival as a scaled marketing platform, that day remains a long way off. The San Francisco-based firm continues to be selective in choosing beta advertisers, and even seems to be selecting for high-engagement brands such as recording artists and popular consumer products, report agency executives. Early advertisers have included Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks, and Virgin America.
All advertisers who are currently using the Promoted Tweets platform are automatically included in the in-stream ad tests.
While it may be an overstatement to say Twitter has hand-chosen its early ad partners for the PR value, the company has certainly been slow to open the kimono to marketers that are eager to trial its ad tools. Twitter's trying, though. During Advertising Week in New York last month, Costolo said the company aims to work with "hundreds" of brands by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, a range of industry-standard ad targeting methods, including geo-targeting, are still not available on Twitter. The company has signaled it intends to offer location-based targeting next year when it rolls out its expected self-serve platform.
"If you start to combine these things, it gets really fascinating," said David Berkowitz, senior director of emerging media and innovation at 360i. "Also, Twitter is so heavily used on mobile devices that location is even more important than it is for any kind of online site or service.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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