January 26 2009

When Twitter Advertising Goes Too Far

twitter logoThere has been much debate over whether one should monetize their message stream on Twitter, and I think I have finally come down on the side of “no”.

For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, it’s a popular microblogging service that allows you to share with your followes what you are doing at any given time in 140 characters or less.  What started off as a niche product has turned into a mainstream hit with mentions on The Big Bang Theory, being used by celebrities (Stephen Fry in particular enjoys using Twitter), playing into political campaigns and a whole lot more.  As you gain more popularity on the service, and people find you interesting to read, they will “follow” you, meaning that your tweets, slang for the short messages, show up in the friend’s are of your account.

While many people have puzzled over why Twitter itself has still yet to place any advertising on the site in hopes of making money, that hasn’t stopped people from trying to monetize their accounts on their own.  While some are using affiliate links, others are selling their background images via companies like Twittad (full disclosure: I have, and do, sell my background through them for my @seanpaune Twitter account), and others try to sell actual tweets though companies like Ad Cause.  This is to say that when you sell tweet advertising, an automated system will place an actual ad in your tweet stream so that all of your followers can see it.

This is where I draw the line.  I am obviously not adverse to advertising as I have admitted to selling my background, and this very blog carries ads in the right column, but I am opposed to ads being forced on a person.  When I sell my background, it is just that, a background image.  It does not change the way Twitter works in any way, and no one has to read it that doesn’t choose to.  Selling an ad in your normal Twitter stream, though, totally changes the user experience for your followers.  As the site is built around conversation, imagine what would happen if you started randomly shouting out advertisements as you talked to one.

Steve: So, Bob, I heard you went out with Stacey last night.  Lucky dog!

Bob: Oh, yeah, thanks Steve, it was a pretty great evening.

Steve: Where’d you go?  Somewhere nice?

Bob: Yeah, it was pretty swanky.

Steve: I hope it goes well for you, she’s quite a catch!


Steve: … You sold your conversations again, didn’t you?

Bob: I had to pay for the dinner somehow!

Not so pleasant, is it?

Even affiliate links don’t bother me so much if you are talking about something relevant.  Say you send me a tweet about a DVD you loved, I have no problem with you making an affiliate link to that DVD, but don’t just think it’s okay to randomly have messages show up that are nothing but a blatant ad.

I know full well that this post won’t stop people who are determined to use their Twitter streams as advertising revenue, but I also hope you understand when I unfollow you for doing it.

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