The decision is a kick in the collective crotch for in-stream ad businesses like Ad.ly, 140 Proof (shown at right) and Sponsored Tweets, which pay users to post occasional commercial messages or partner with applications to drop ads into the tweet stream.
It’s also a sign that Twitter is getting serious — after a mere four years — about monetizing their own service instead of just watching while everyone else milks their cow. The relatively new, official ad service of Promoted Tweets will now have a lock on in-stream advertising.
What Twitter said:
I’ll spare you the 611-word introduction (kid you not) to Twitter COO Dick Costolo’s blog post and skip right to the key points:
“Aside from Promoted Tweets, we will not allow any third party to inject paid tweets into a timeline on any service that leverages the Twitter API. …
“Why are we prohibiting these kinds of ads? First, third party ad networks are not necessarily looking to preserve the unique user experience Twitter has created. They may optimize for either market share or short-term revenue at the expense of the long-term health of the Twitter platform. …
“Secondly, the basis for building a lasting advertising network that benefits users should be innovation, not near-term monetization. Twitter is uniquely dependent on and responsible for the long-term health and value of the platform. Accordingly, a necessary focus of Promoted Tweets is to explore ways to create value for our users.”
Personally, I find this to be a less compelling argument than if he had simply said, “It’s our service, we pay the bills, and we want to be the ones making money from it.” I think we'd all agree that's fair.
Who does this affect?
The biggest problem here isn’t Twitter’s decision; it’s the length of time it took for Twitter to make the decision. By taking a laissez-faire stance on advertising for so many years, Twitter’s execs tacitly gave companies and users the green light to create their own ad opportunities.
Had Twitter made this decision in 2008, it probably wouldn’t have hurt much of anybody. But this late in the game, it comes as a heavy hit to several businesses and takes away a modest revenue source from many users and app developers who’ve signed up to automatically distribute the ads.
All that said, it’s hard to get too upset about a decision that reduces the number of ads we have to see in a day. Also, the Twitter execs deserve credit for being otherwise accommodating to most businesses profiting off their service.
Even Sponsored Tweets, part of the Izea network of paid social media content, seems optimistic its advertisers and users can remain active on Twitter. As I was writing this post, Izea CEO Ted Murphy published his take on what kind of promotion is still kosher:
“You can still tweet about our sponsors. You can still promote your employer. You can still drive traffic to your blog. You can still share amazon affiliate links. You can still use your account to tweet out deals. You still have freedom to do what you like with your Twitter account, so long as you aren’t a spammer.”
Murphy hopes that turning off his service’s “direct publishing” feature will be enough to comply with Twitter’s new rules, though I’m not so sure. Ad service 140 Proof also has posted a quick response, which basically just says "no comment."
If you’re in the advertising field, now’s a good time to brush up on Twitter’s constantly evolving guidelines on commercial use.
It’s also a good time to start thinking about Twitter’s upcoming Annotations feature, which could help users interconnect more intricately than ever before. Costolo feels this addition alone will spark the creation of many new companies, ones which can hopefully live in peaceful co-existence with a Twitter that’s finally behaving more like a tech industry leader and less like a nonprofit.