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The State and Future of Twitter 2010: Part Two

The influence and promise of Twitter is only now starting to materialize. Everything that occurred prior to Chirp has lead us to this moment and as such, is almost worthy of categorization as BC (Before Chirp). Everything that happens now, is almost symbolic of a new movement (AC, After Chirp) and as such, it essentially starts a new chapter in the evolution of Twitter.

To truly capture the State and Future of Twitter and all that was revealed during its first official conference, requires additional time and space. In Part One, we examined the sociological impact of Twitter on society, the true size of the network, as well as equally exploring its challenges and opportunities. In Part Two, we’ll review and interpret streams, interest graphs, and Twitters new advertising platform.

Streams Define the New Web

At the focal point of the entire event wasn’t just the developer community; the real beneficiary of all that was introduced, was us, as users as well as individuals soon to be introduced to Twitter. We took center stage as information and details of the “new” Twitter visualized new realities and brought the future of our experiences to life, today.

As Chris Messina, Kevin Marks, Stowe Boyd and others have long signaled, the Web is becoming less about pages and more about streams. Our behavior on the Web today places the power of content discovery and consumption firmly in our grasp. We decide who we follow. We choose which links are worthy of clicking. We determine the information that’s worth reading and more important, worthy of sharing.

The feeds to which we subscribe, channel activities of those we follow in our social graph funnel into the streams that flow through attention dashboards, TweetDeck, Seesmic, HootSuite, PeopleBrowsr, et al. The attention dashboard is how we learn. It introduces us to new discoveries. We’re gifted the insight to see what moves and inspires those we follow. It is also where we earn relevance and hopefully prominence, as what we share in turn, determines its visibility, engagement, and reaction within the attention dashboards and ultimately the streams of those who follow us and who follow them.

The Ties that Bind: Interest Graphs

Social networking is evolving beyond the mere connections to other individuals. We are forming contextual networks by linking to those we know as well as the people we’d like to know. These direct and indirect connections introduce value to our routines, aspirations, and missions from a distance. The most fascinating aspects of contextual relationships is that they mirror our patterns of behavior in real life, however, the interactions we form and cultivate online cast traceable imprints and they define our actions, interests, and alliances more effectively than we may realize.

As we are complex creatures, we are captivated by an incalculable amount of pursuits. While we may follow and are in turn followed by many, the inbound and outbound relevant networks we consciously and unknowingly cultivate expand, contract and reshape based on keywords of interest.

In the era of the real-time social Web, there are already tools in existence with many more to appear that can immediately analyze online activity to summarize your interests and the social graphs formed as a result.

As we learned at Chirp, Twitter’s COO Dick Costolo refers to the idea of themed connections as an interest graph, the linkages of Twitter users who form connections and host conversations around common subjects. It is these inbound and outbound relevant networks that lay the foundation for Twitter’s monetization strategies.

Twitter’s Business Model: Relevance

Prior to the dawn of Chirp, Twitter introduced Promoted Tweets. Much like the ads that appear in Google Search, Promoted Tweets will appear at the top of Twitter search results and the company promises that they will be “useful to you.”

Among the first to adopt Promoted Tweets include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks, and Virgin America—with more to come.

Promoted Tweets are clearly labeled as such, but their promise lies in the ability to look and act similar to regular Tweets, meaning that they retain all the functionality of a regular Tweet including replying, Retweeting, and favoriting.

Perhaps the greatest value in Promoted Tweets is their ability to remain atop the stream of relevance. While each of the initial companies experimenting with Promoted Tweets maintain Twitter accounts, the volume of content flying through the attention dashboards of followers inherently buries the most attractive of offers posted by any business.

According to Twitter, Promoted Tweets will also be timely. As much of Twitter’s activity takes places outside of the dotcom, developers can choose whether or not Promoted Tweets are integrated in their apps.

As the company defines, the connection between Promoted Tweets and individual interests provides a powerful means of delivering information relevant to you at the moment, in real-time.

Brands aspire to earn attention and reactions in the streams of both social and interest graphs. If consumers share information related to the brand, earned media then becomes the word of mouth catalyst that then spreads the information across the Web.  Organic Tweets that mention companies and their services, offers, value, etc., are considered earned media. Promoted Tweets create a hybrid of paid and earned media, something I refer to as sponsored media. Promoted Tweets begin as paid media and transform into earned media with every ReTweet.

Costolo shared the love, positioning the new revenue model as helping “the entire ecosystem making money.” Therefore, the company is splitting promoted tweets revenue 50-50 with distribution partners.

Relevance and Resonance

Promoted Tweets are perhaps less controversial than what the immediate future beholds. Today, Promoted Tweets will appear only in search results. Once the system and the culture of the community is tested and immersed, paid Tweets will then enter the streams that connect interest graphs to topics of interest. Again, the value to the advertiser is that these Tweets will appear in the streams of individuals who have repeatedly demonstrated and communicated their interests through their actions and reactions as representative in the Tweet history.

However, with opportunity, new challenges face advertisers. Promoted Tweets force relevance into their campaigns in order to trigger positive responses and ultimately word of mouth and measurable activity. Twitter is not only changing communications between users, it also represents the impetus for contextualizing and humanizing advertising, in real-time. Without the ability to connect to and inspire people, campaigns will fail miserably. Those that appeal to the emotions and interests of consumers will spark a social effect that reverberates across the social graph online and eventually into the real world.

Dick Costolo shared a tangible example, “If I tweet a lot about coffee, I could be a great target for Starbucks ads, for example.” And, it is Starbucks that appears to fully embrace the notion of the real-time interest graph.

Not only is Starbucks among the initial adopters of Promoted Tweets, the company is also running an innovative outreach program with influence measurement startup Klout. Klout provides everyday marketers with the ability to identify influencers who actively tweet about related topics and also maintain a level of measurable stature with Twitter. These influencers were recently offered a free sample of Starbucks Pike Place Roast because of their earned authority on the subject of coffee.

In many ways, Twitter’s Promoted Tweets mirrors this strategy, but now extends it from individual influencers to anyone interested in coffee, not necessary influential on the subject.

Two words that were repeated throughout the conference, resonance and relevance, underscored Twitter’s commitment to creating an advertising platform that would earn the support of the community.

As Costolo noted, “Tweets that don’t resonate with users will disappear.”

Resonance is the reinforcement or prolongation of social objects. A Tweet, whether it’s paid or earned, represents a social object as its introduction and exposure possesses the ability to spark conversations. The extent and volume however, are determined by relevance and the shareability of the social object however.

Chirp 2010 -

Twitter is using resonance as a metric as it measures all the different ways people engage with Tweets and as such, produces a resonance score that determines the effectiveness and overall lifespan of Promoted Tweets. Resonance examines the visibility of a Tweet and actions surrounding them including how often they’re retweeted, favorited, etc.

In addition to developers, Twitter seems to truly believe that the user experience is the source of Twitter’s past and future. As such, it is the experience that is also the inspiration behind Promoted Tweets. Initially these paid opportunities will be based on a CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions or 1,000 qualified individuals exposed to the Tweet). What caught my attention however, is that as Twitter learns about the performance, accuracy, and possibilities orbiting resonance as a metric, the cost model will migrate from CPM to a ROI model…yes, Return on Investment.  Details on the ROI model weren’t discussed, but I can assure you, anything that is introduced into the real-time Web triggers a response, even if that response is nothing. Advertisers will need to not only get creative, but also ensure that Promoted Tweets are both actionable, Retweetable, and, let me say that again, AND, advantageous.

Twitter’s metric could be applied to all forms of social media, from Twitter advertising to Tweets produced by its users to updates and postings across the entire social Web. Without relevance, we cannot trigger resonance, and without resonance, we cannot establish significance.

In social media, we earn the relationships, responses, and trust we deserve.

Previously: Part One – Twitter, by the numbers.

Next: Part Three – A look at the new features, technologies, and partnerships unveiled at Chirp.

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