Ads in Twitter streams seems to be the hot topic du jour, brought into the tech mainstream most recently by a NY Times article “A Friend’s Tweet Could be an Ad,” referencing Twitter ad services such as Ad.ly and Likes.com.
To sum up the Times piece – there’s a ton of activity and opportunity for Twitter ads, alongside an equal dose of risk and uneasiness. Any time you find a communication channel that involves high volumes of messages and equally high volumes of opted-in followers of people they (in theory) trust or value, you’ll find ad folks salivating. You’ll also find people more than willing to dive in and take those ad dollars.
The uneasiness comes for both followers and tweeters – in a relationship implicitly built on trust and direct communication, do ads sour the mix?
After being quoted in the Times article saying he’d unfollow anyone who places ads in their Twitter streams, Robert Scoble weighed in again over the weekend with to clarify his stance:
In it I said I unfollow people who put ads in their Twitter stream. I should have been a little bit more clear. Putting ads in your stream, if you disclose them, won’t automatically get me to unfollow you, but it does cause me to look at the value I’m getting out of your stream.
My emphasis on “disclose” added, as I think that’s the key point, along with both volume and relevancy. Those three factors will determine whether I continue to follow someone who mixes ads with their normal tweets. Looking more closely:
1. Disclosure: This should be obvious. If you’re being paid to tweet something, let me know. Throw an #ad hashtag on the end, or lead with “AD”. Your choice, just be clear and consistent. Don’t open yourself up to the “paid duplicitous shill” accusations which plagued the introduction of paid blog posts a few years back.
2. Volume: Scoble recommends no more than 5% of your tweets should be ads; Likes.com is supposedly limiting their participants to no more than one ad every other day. The jury is definitely still out on this one, and it varies dramatically by the volume and frequency of your tweets, along with how commercial your Twitter stream is in the first place. Experiment, watch others you admire for how they do it, and listen to your followers. High twitter ad volume is the new spam – tread carefully.
3. Relevancy: If you’re known as an expert on books, limit your ads to book-related promotions. If your followers expect to hear your thoughts on gardening, don’t randomly spam them with ads on financial products, no matter how much they pay. Keep the ads relevant to your established expertise and the expectations of your followers.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of in-tweet ads – I largely agree with Scoble though and certainly won’t unfollow someone simply for mixing a few well disclosed and highly relevant ads in, but will quickly drop you if you start to reek of spam.
Andy Beal posted a survey for his readers on the topic, and it seems to reflect the same kind of ambivalence, with 45% “Yes”, 21% “No” and 34% “Not Sure” responses to his question of “Will you unfollow those that place ads in their tweets?” (as of the time of this post)
As for brands and agencies: Twitter ads are something I’d recommend any brand or agency tread *extremely* carefully around. You don’t want to be one of the first case studies on how NOT to do Twitter ads, no matter how much you crave being innovative. Maintain tight control over the volume, placement, and relevancy of the ads you place and who you place them with, and quickly reconsider any service or ad network who doesn’t play by those rules.