Twitter’s new promoted tweets are the first step in the companies widely anticipated advertising platform. It’s been coming for a long time, and it’s rather surprising Twitter has held out this long without a significant source of ad revenue.

So just what are promoted tweets and how do they work? When a Twitter user searches on a word, a message appears at the top of the list of tweets returned by the search. The message at the top is a “sponsored” message bought by an advertiser for a particular search term. The tweets returned by the search are continually updated, but the sponsored or promoted tweet stays on top highlighted in yellow.

A search for the word “coffee” produced this promoted tweet by Starbucks.

Promoted Tweets

Eventually, it’s likely Twitter will insert these promoted tweets into the regular tweet stream without requiring a search to trigger their display.
Promoted tweets are removed if they don’t get forwarded or favorited enough, or there are not enough replies.

Twitter is now 4 years old and an advertising income stream is a necessary evil for the profitability and long term survival of the company. The current approach is relatively unobtrusive and does not significantly impact the user experience. I’m hopeful the additional revenue will allow the company to buy more servers and improve the reliability of the service. Keep your fingers crossed.