Risks with Twitter Advertising

Whether we like it or not, we’re going to start seeing many more ads in Twitter. As The New York Times reported today, services like Ad.ly,IZEA and Likes are furiously putting twitter ad networks in place.SocialMedia.com has also done several tests in this realm too.

When I covered sponsored tweets in my book a few months ago, it seemed the promise land for many advertisers. What could be better than having a social influencer reach a prospective customer on an advertiser’s behalf by providing a recommendation in an editorially integrated fashion? It’s Facebook Newsfeed dynamics taken to another level. It seemed the holy grail of social influence marketing. However, I’m starting to have my doubts now. Here are some potential risks.

1. Your users can revolt with mass un-following
The twitterati who stand to gain the most, will need to test how comfortable their followers are with receiving these advertisements. Formats, frequency and content – all need to be figured out. Because these are new formats (and frankly speaking, the whole platform is still very new), we do not know what will work as yet. We all get irritated by people who tweet a bit too much as it is.
2. Lack of technological sophistication may kill the model
If a Google adwords model is put in place and we start seeing ads on twitter in droves, there will probably be a strong backlash. Unlike other platforms, you currently can’t cookie a user who’s seeing an advertisement on Twitter. So if I follow five twitter users who accept advertising, there’s a chance that I may see the same advertisement from each of them in the span of an afternoon. That would be problematic. The networks need to be implemented with the right technology infrastructure behind it. Twitter must help here.
3. Black box ROI that makes it difficult to compare
Click thru rates cannot provide enough ROI – there will need to be CPM models in place as well. The problem is that there are few good ways to measure impressions. Sure you have the number of followers but that doesn’t mean that the total number of followers actually saw the ads. The problem is compounded when you have people using twitter applications to access their streams. There’s no way of finding out whether a user has actually seen a tweet. You also need to know whether the users fit your target demographics.
4. Advertisers choose not to intrude on conversations
Advertisers are savvy group of people. They’re also increasingly sensitive about how their brands are perceived in the social media space. And by sensitive I don’t just mean that they’re worried about someone speaking ill of them but about appearing to be invading on a user’s social world too. It is left to be seen how many advertisers will sign up for twitter ad networks. Many will probably take a wait and see approach. The last thing an advertiser would want is a backlash against their brand. I for one would recommend that advertisers invest in developing their own social voices first before experimenting with twitter ad formats.
5. Lack of transparency hurts the Twitter trust model
It is sometimes easy to forget that twitter is built on trust. We share more than we realize often because we trust that no one will use the information against us. Our followers reward us with their attention and the conversations that ensue. If there’s no transparency in the twitter advertising, some of that trust will be broken. Before you know it, the FTC will feel obliged to institute guidelines or requirements for advertising in this space too. So there’s a risk that the advertising may not be as transparent as it should be. And that’s where disclosure codes like those recommended by Jon Burg will matter a lot. Maybe these twitter ad networks can build disclosure codes into their platforms?
We’ve an exciting year ahead of us as more companies and publishers look to monetize social media interactions. The question is what formats will develop that will truly be in synchronized with the ethos of the social web. With twitter advertising, as far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on it.