Twitter watchers have long awaited (and some feared) this moment: Ads are coming to your Twitter timeline. Twitterers thus far have supported and shown little concern over Twitter’s Promoted Tweets program, so long as those paid tweets were easily differentiated from unpaid tweets and stayed within search results or at the top of the Trends list. But now Twitter is taking the next step that many expected and inserting promoted tweets into users’ Twitter streams (see image below), and that means comingling authentic, unpaid tweets with paid, advertising tweets.
This is the riskiest move Twitter has ever made. There is a big difference between displaying paid tweets at the top of search results and inserting them into the timeline — just ask search engines, which for a while in the early days of the Web struggled with their own monetization models. Search engines experimented with comingling paid search ads with organic search results, but the backlash from consumer advocates and users was sufficient to force a different model. Today, paid search ads are not just differentiated with words, colors and fonts but are substantially and consistently separated from organic results into special portions of the screen.