Keeping Mayflies On Life Support (And Other Challenges Facing Twitter Ads)

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Coming on the heels of Twitter's announcement that members send out 50 million tweets per day, or 600 per second, it only makes sense that word would come of plans to launch an advertising platform on the service.

When the head of product management at Twitter said at the IAB Annual Leadership meeting yesterday that the launch of an advertising platform was "imminent,"it came in relation to a discussion about the spike in tweets during the Super Bowl -- and not just during the Super Bowl, the 50 percent spike came during the final touchdown.

User numbers on Twitter are a nebulous sort of figure. Sure the number of Twitter users jumped from 2 million to 20 million last year, but this does not mean an audience of 20 million, of course. Just as there is no guarantee someone is sitting in front of the television screen during a commercial break (they've likely went to the kitchen to get another beer, right?), there's no guarantee that a Twitter user is looking at his feed, either at, or, as many do, on a third-party platform.

However, 600 tweets per second is kind of definitive (though you probably know two or three people who are nearly capable of hitting that total by themselves) and even more definitive is a spike of 50 percent. You know those people are looking at their phones or laptops or fancy watches or whatever device it is that they use.

Once Twitter does finally incorporate sponsored tweets, or what some like to call "ads," Biz and Ev will have to deal with the inevitable backlash of people getting posts they haven't signed up for (which is what the initial plan sounds like -- an unsolicited tweet worked into your feed with a hashtag to identify it as an ad.) Yes it's one thing to know that Kim Kardashian sends out nothing but marketing messages, but you followed her, so you've brought that on yourself. The one problem is figuring out how to tack the ads on -- maybe it's for continued use of a free version of Twitter, or maybe it's something else, but that is hurdle No. 1.

Then there's the problem of half-life.

Just as a microblog post has the half-life of a mayfly when compared to say a blog post, so too would the ads, if nothing is done. And the more tweets there are going, say like during an exciting part of the Super Bowl or the VMAs, the shorter the mayfly lives. You can't imagine many brands wanting to pay for this, but you can imagine them wanting the Super Bowl audience. Oh yes. It'll be like measuring ratings by the second, but they'll want in.

Forwarding, or retweeting, organically keeps the mayfly alive longer, but he holds on just a tiny bit longer, and besides, unless the sponsored tweets are extraordinarily compelling, it's unlikely many of them will get passed around.

Thus it falls to Twitter to find a viable way of keeping the mayflies on life support.

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