Companies Tweet For Attention

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Twitter is wildly popular, credited with making the career of pop stars and keeping Conan O'Brien in the public eye while he is off TV. But Twitter isn't making money that is proportional to its pop culture cred. Today it announced one way it is going to try to change that: promoted tweets, also known as advertising. Companies can pay to have their messages show up first in searches on Twitter's site.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Starting today, Twitter users will now see ads when they do searches on the site. Twitter made the announcement after months of speculation about how it planned to make money from its rapidly growing popularity.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL: If it's being talked about in the news, it's probably a hot topic on Twitter.

Unidentified Man: Phil Mickelson...

Unidentified Woman: The President of Poland...

(Soundbite of TV program, "Lopez Tonight")

Mr. GEORGE LOPEZ (Host, "Lopez Tonight"): Conan O'Brien will be joining us on late night on TBS.

(Soundbite of cheering)

(Soundbite of song, "Baby")

Mr. JUSTIN BIEBER (Singer): (Singing) Baby, baby, baby. Oh...

SYDELL: Conan O'Brien may be getting a lot of free advertising on Twitter but the site itself hasn't gotten anything in return. Today, the company announced that when someone does a search to see what people are saying about a particular topic, they will also get a related ad.

First, to research analyst Augie Ray.

Mr. AUGIE RAY (Research Analyst, Forrester Research): They'll get a chance to see what is being called a promoted tweet that stays constant, as opposed to other tweets which constantly flow down the page as new tweets come in.

SYDELL: So if you search the name of a new movie to see what people are saying about it, the studio might put up an ad with a link to a good review. But the ad will only stay up if it gets re-tweeted and looked up by users.

Ray says advertisers are going to have to think differently if they want their ads to be effective.

Mr. RAY: This is not an ad where you get to talk about yourself exclusively. It's an ad where you either create dialogue or you create value for others. And if you fail to do so, then your ad simply won't appear for very long at all -people vote it out of existence.

SYDELL: Financial analysts have been waiting for Twitter to announce some kind of ad-based revenue system to capitalize on its 22 million users in the U.S.

Gartner analyst Andrew Frank says today's announcement was modest but there's more to come.

Mr. ANDREW FRANK (Research Vice President, Gartner): They made it pretty clear that this was the first phase of something that they expected to refine over a long period of time.

SYDELL: Frank imagines that eventually, users will see ads in regular Twitter streams on their computers or phones.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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