Advertising and Twitter - An obvious and awkward combination

If you've seen David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network you could well be familiar with the following fragment of conversation.

Advertising

I imagine that a similar conversation has been going on at the San Francisco Head-Quarters of Twitter in recent months/years with Finance Departments trying to monetise a service which currently has over 300 million users, producing 300 million tweets and performing 1.6 billion searches each day.

Their first strategy was to offer "Promoted Tweets" that is Tweets that a company has paid to put at the top of a relevant search, for example "Music" could see a Promoted Tweet from an Artist or Record Company.

Following on from this they started Promoted Trends (where a company can insert itself into the Top Trends), Promoted Accounts (where the account will appear more regularly in "Who to follow" and most recently has offered "Enhanced Profile Pages". These are profiles which are fully public, can be viewed without logging into Twitter, and can self promote tweets and use greater levels of integration for photos and videos.

Whilst all this expands the revenue base of Twitter I can't see it putting the company of the same level of Facebook, which has developed more and more targeted adverts as it gathers more information about its users thus making them more effective and therefore cost more to companies. Twitter's approach seems more incidental, and open to chance, yes a retweet from a celebrity can make or break a campaign but will companies pay hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars on that chance.

A simpler way for a company to use Twitter without having to pay for the "promoted" or "enhanced" options is for them to have popular members of the service do advertise for them. However this is its own minefield, as Snickers has found out in the UK this week. Several celebrities from Sport, Music and Television took part in a campaign where they would tweet about "unexpected" activities or knowledge (as shown below by Manchester United and England player Rio Ferdinand, who has 1.9M followers) .

The problem that Snickers and these high profile Tweeters (who included Katie Price, Amir Khan, Ian Botham and Cher Lloyd) is that under the rules of advertising laid down by the Office of Fair Trading in the UK advertising must be labelled as such and "deceptive advertising" is not permitted. Whether Ferdinand's tweets contravene these rules is going to be the subject of an Advertising Standards Authority investigation and the outcome could be crucial to companies using Twitter, it's no good having to say "the following is an opinion I have been paid to say" before you praise a product/service.