Back in May, Twitter finally joined the ranks of the the social media capitalists and rolled out Promoted Tweets to capitalize on all the ad dollars that were going to 3rd party apps versus Twitter's coffers. This month, they're considering selling their infamous trending topics as ad space.
Yes, along with breaking news like last year's "Iran's Election Protests," you might find "Starbucks New Roast" or "JetBlue's $10 Sale." While all the bugs haven't been worked out, I think you get the picture. There's money to be had in charging a brand to "buy a trend." The question is: Isn't "buying a trend" going against a basic tenet of Twitter? Weren't real-time trends what set Twitter apart from other social networks and traditional media?
While Promoted Tweets is only slightly unobtrusive, only showing up when users are actually searching certain 'keywords,' if Promoted Trends become a reality, they will be front and center on users' homepages throughout the course of the day. And while the ads would change periodically based on how much a brand is willing to pay for the ad space over a prescribed period of time, these ads would definitely become obtrusive for users.
According to Peter Kafka at AllThingsDigital, "the messaging service (Twitter) has been talking about it in vague terms and has yet to test it." Advertisers who have heard Twitter suggesting this new ad strategy say the model might charge as much as "tens of thousands of dollars" a day for exclusive placement.
Now, if Twitter was to figure out a way that "all" of its users did not see all of the Promoted Trends, it might have a chance of working. For instance, if Twitter was able to curtail certain topics for certain users based on frequency of "search topics" or "keywords within tweets," then at least there would be a filter for the ads to appear on the homepages for those more likely to be interested. This model would be similar to Google preferences.
However, with Facebook incurring the wrath of the 'wisdom of crowds' for their Instant Personalization campaign, Twitter could come under the same scrutiny and push-back from the Twitterverse.
As it stands, right now, Twitter is having a hard time insuring that its 'legitimate' trending topics aren't cluttered or corrupted by spam. Recently the 'Justin Bieber' topic never seemed to go away, until Twitter tweaked their algorithm to virtually 'kill' the topic from appearing. Add "ads" to the mix, and the credibility of trending will have virtually lost its democratic voice.
As Kafka noted, "Twitter spent a long time trying not to become a media company, but it is certainly headed that way now." We have lived with the traditional media model for years and rejected it when a refreshing new approach was delivered to us via an innovative microblogging platform back in 2006. For it to now follow in the footsteps of 'old school' might be the first step in its undoing.