Twitter, the micro-blogging social media network, just started running ads last year. Now they’re branching out into political advertising, too. The ads take the form of Promoted Tweets, coming up in certain searches or showing up prominently for those who follow political campaigns. Candidates and their campaigns can also pay Twitter to rearrange their positions on searches or to be promoted as “suggested for following” accounts.
Twitter is highlighting all ads so everyone knows they’re ads (a plus for truth in advertising perhaps). Commercial ads get an orange arrow, while the politicos get designated with a purple check mark. Also, political campaign ads features on Twitter disclose a full disclaimer, per FEC rules and regulations, when they’re hovered over using a mouse.
Several campaigns have already signed up to advertise on the micro-blogging service. These include the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. One of the DSCC’s first tweet ads promoted President Obama’s “Buffet Rule” to increase taxes on millionaire taxpayers.
Twitter made a somewhat controversial choice recently to air commercial Promoted Tweets in the timelines of users who don’t follow the brands the ads are intended to promote. The company does try to match ads with users’ interests. Political ads, at least for now, will not be timelined outside of those who are following the campaigns they’re aired by.
Twitter has a global audience estimated at 100 million people, so obviously it’s a good target for advertising, whether commercial or political. There are, however, some inherent pitfalls to using a medium that’s inherently interactive. Microsoft infamously crashed and burned in its attempt to exploit the death of singer Amy Winehouse. On the politics side, number of followers doesn’t necessarily translate into poll standing or electoral chances; Newt Gingrich, for example, has well over a million followers but is not favored to win the Republican nomination as of yet – although as Republican voters cycle through their favorites he may possibly be next. President Obama’s Twitter campaigns have been mocked by his rivals rather successfully. Treating Twitter as if it were broadcast media is a sure route to failure. Genuinely trying to build a network of followers and supporters through both giving and taking is a necessary adaptation to the social media that not all campaigns seem to have figured out yet.
It remains to be seen how campaigns of the future will make use of Twitter and other social media to promote their candidates. American politics has some learning to do. It may be that a few more campaigns, and possibly the rise of a new generation of candidates, will be necessary before this new way of promoting a political campaign really takes off.
Be careful if you plan on meeting someone suspicious on Twitter, you might want to do first a brief criminal background check on him before going further with the relationship.