The Silicon Valley sorts have not traditionally been lovers of Internet advertising. Facebook and twitter were both slow adopters of the principal mechanism behind content monetization – Internet ads – but on the back of pioneering new ‘native’ ad products, Twitter have fallen in love with advertising.
It took four years for Twitter to even try and deliver Internet ads. Jack Dorsey opened Twitter with a simple tweet – “just setting up my twtter”, typo included, in 2006. It was 2010 before the first ads appeared, by which time Twitter was serving billions of page views (the metrics used to measure a sites advertising potential). However in the social media world around Silicon Valley, there’s always been a big fear around advertising. The dreaded banner ad it was theorised would be one dire fire way to turn people away from the fledgling communities. Build the network first and worry about making cash second was the prevailing philosophy.
It’s a nice theory, but when you have taken millions of dollars of venture capitalist cash, you’re going to get squeezed on plenty of fronts, and the pressure to deliver the growing revenues needed to sustain ballooning valuations is chief amongst these pressures.
So Twitter were looking at ads as long ago as 2008, two years into their rise to prominence.
For co-founder Biz Stone, ads were not an option though. “We’re not putting ads on Twitter.com” was his dead-pan reply when questioned on the subject.
However, by April that year, Twitter were running ads, albeit in Japan only. Toyota had the distinction of becoming Twitter’s first advertiser. At home in the States, other companies were bearing Twitter at monetizing Twitters own audience. Adly were matching celebs with advertisers who wanted to reach their fans and leverage affinity. Izea eventually launched “promoted tweets”, which were an early form of native ads. Mashable for one were not impressed, branding Twitter advertising as “evil”.
Biz Stone was still heavily against ads in the middle of 2009, a mere 6 months before the company fully embraced advertising. To Stone, ads simply were “not quite as interesting” as other stuff they were working on.
Stone lost sleep over the idea of the clean, fast and intuitive Twitter interface getting clogged up by ugly and distracting banner ads. Others in the co,pant agreed, so when they did announce that ads are coming,they claimed they would be “fascinating, non-traditional and people will love it.”
The format was promoted Tweets, which launched half a year later. Twitter had avoided the dreaded banner ad and had instead launched a native ad unit which perfectly matched the content on Twitter. Brands had waited at least two years for this, meaning Twitter cloud launch with household names like Starbucks and Virgin. Trending topics soon followed, providing a multi-platform ad model that worked equally well on mobile, tablet and desktop.
By now, as much as 50 percent of Twitter’s traffic was mobile, so old fashioned banner ads were pretty much obsolete anyway. Stone got his way either way, as the homepage remained ad-free.
Do people really love Twitter ads, as the company claimed they would? No is the short answer, but they approve more so than they do around other more distracting formats. The ads will make Twitter $400m this year to-boot.
What Twitter have achieved is demonstrating how advertising doesn’t have to stand out and instead how it can fit in, making it work much better whilst giving a better user experience. In that sense, Twitter launched the native ad revolution, and as web users, we can be thankful about that.