On the heels of Tweetup’s launch of an Overture-style service for inserting ads into a real-time search of Twitter feeds, Twitter is finally announcing its approach to advertising today: inserting tweets from Starbucks or Virgin into my stream of updates from people I follow. What immediately struck me about the news wasn’t where ads would show up, but how they would be selected: Twitter might be the first company in a decade to show me ads more meaningful to my daily life than Google.
I’ve often been a critic of ad-based models in which the site’s content and its ads are at cross-purposes: many real estate websites, for example, are limited in the data they can show consumers about a home because their advertising clients are real estate agents who want to sell that home. Most newspapers have had to separate ad salesmen from journalists to prevent the former from influencing the latter. Many social networking sites appeal to adolescents but court advertisements for adults.
But by inserting tweets into my stream that I have not asked to see but which other users I follow have found useful enough to click on or re-broadcast, Twitter may have found a way to show me ads I find useful. That doesn’t happen very often. In fact, as John Battelle noted last night, it has happened for many of us primarily with only one company: Google.
In the history of the Internet, no one has been better than Google at choosing ads relevant to me. Google’s ad-choosing algorithms are based on an analysis of the ad’s content and whether people click on it.
Twitter adds to that analysis a social element, whether the ad is something that people talk about on Twitter — one of several factors that contribute to what Twitter calls an ad’s resonance. As anyone who has talked about a SuperBowl ad on Monday morning will tell you, there’s a big difference between voting for an ad by clicking or watching, and voting for an ad by telling your friends all about it.
I am not sure many ads will be re-broadcast, or whether this social element can become a significant factor in assessing an ad’s resonance. But in adding a social element to the quest for relevance, Tweetup and Twitter are challenging advertisers to compete with all the other interesting people I follow — and like Google, giving advertisers a way to iterate on their ad quickly, measuring results in real-time. This may challenge Google in an area where it has reigned supreme: showing people the right ad at the right time. It’ll be fun to see what happens next.