Everyone seems to be on a kick to write open letters lately, so here’s mine to Twitter. Tonight, it was announced that Twitter will deploy an impression-based service for advertisers to promote (advertise) their messages to users service-wide and likely throughout their content network of partner sites. This change has ignited a flurry of feedback from users and I grow concerned for the emerging-now-mainstream online service.
Monday, April 12, 2010 11:14PM
As a concerned Internet user and somewhat “early adopter” of your service, I worry for the business decision your company has made regarding online advertising. With respect to sponsored/paid Tweets being officially promulgated by your service, it gives rise to the intentions, core values and ethos of the company. The juxtaposition made in affording advertisers to “pay” their way to the top of Twitter search results combats against the organic uses of Twitter for brand building and management.
I refer to the statement that first appears on your About page. I’m interpreting this to serve as your core vision that the company strives for:
Twitter is a real-time information network powered by people all around the world that lets you share and discover what’s happening now.
In that statement, I do not see advertisers or companies. Though, I understand if this changes on Tuesday.
Given the stated point above, I strongly feel these changes render an inconsistent user experience. Ads in the form of Tweets may result in users paying less attention — assuming any positive endorsement of a brand could potentially be paid, sponsored or subject to endorsement by the advertiser. While it is courteous for Twitter to afford advertisers editorial control of the search stream and a user’s stream, this doesn’t fall far from the Payola scheme that radio played for years and likely still continues through variations today.
One example of an exploit through the power of Twitter would be this plausible scenario. Company “A” sponsors a negative, damaging Tweet bashing company “B” – how would this be handled? This introduces a possible legal claim of collusion. Yeah, I know Section 230 keeps the service immune, but through paid endorsements this can be seen as a transaction between a brand and your service to limit or mislead the presentation of another brand. At least through a third-party, Twitter is merely supplying data and limits such legal risks. Anyhow, back to my point.
The reason why I joined Twitter on March 17, 2007 (or if you count my former account, December 12, 2006) was for discovery of new information and to connect with people on a limitless set of topics. Twitter’s asset is data, information, speed and relevance. It is my belief a substantial number of your users have joined Twitter for this purpose — even if it means keeping up and supporting CoCo. Twitter’s asset is the community they built in allowing people to feel connected to celebrities, brands and helpful/interesting publishers.
History has shown us advertisers have proven their model is based on disruption, not relevance. I probably don’t have to explain why, but should you be interested, check out how display/in-experience advertising has panned out for the newspaper industry (print and online) and broadcast media industry. Twitter is broadcast media, functionally narrowcast in execution. This unique form requires a unique approach.
This model of allowing advertisers to influence the very essence of Twitter is imprudent and an insult to users who have demonstrated loyalty in building the Twitter brand itself through their continued, albeit sometimes illogical engagements.
I only ask for one feature.
Please provide a mechanism to opt-out from this advertising platform through the account settings. Give users the choice to manage their experience and not have it baked for them. I can assure you that 70%+ would not bother only from sheer unawareness of it, but the 30%+ who would love an opt-out mechanism would speak volumes that Twitter does indeed respect the user experience and takes steps to uphold it, not steamroll it like previous online services.
I agree that an opt-in model would prove difficult, even if done through ulterior methods. However, an opt-out method for advertising would prove mutually beneficial for Twitter, users and advertisers.
I’m sure this was a very difficult decision and many of these arguments were made in the walls of your headquarters. I wanted to share my perspective on this. I could be wrong, but I’m okay with that. I hope you consider the user feedback heavily in this matter and be willing to take this back to the drawing board.