Twitter's own future won't contain advertising, but that isn't stopping Time.com from selling its own advertising space on Twitter. Is this one future for social networking ads?
Time's going all-out to figure out how to make money from social networks. As well as Twitter, it's selling ad space on its Facebook page and its YouTube page. The idea is part of Time's "Stay Connected" pitch to its advertisers—another facet to its advertising portfolio. It's one that's more carefully targeted than its other avenues since it can track who visits Time.com from its social net Web pages. And it turns out that these people don't fit the typical Time visitor's profile, and that may be of interest to some of Time's advertising partners.
Time's being subtle about the placements, in large part because they don't have many options. On YouTube the ad is to the right of the video, taking up fairly modest screen real-estate. On Facebook it's underneath a link to Time's fan's photos. And on Twitter the sponsor's logo is embedded in the page's background image. This last, a simple "sponsored by Siemens" message, is subtle, considering the brute force nature of the placement. And potentially quite potent, as Time has over 1.4 million followers (although it's difficult to know how many of those people visit Time's Twitter page directly versus viewing the feed on a separate application such as Tweetdeck).
Is this a clever way to insinuate more advertising onto social networks, or is it a terrible kludge, that'll drive visitors away, each one fed up of seeing too many adverts embedded everywhere? The Facebook and YouTube placements do indeed feel pretty awkward: Each of those services already offers adverts up to its vistors, and though Time describes its own ad embeds as being "in places where we ask users to take an action," to drive more interactivity, it just seems ugly.
The advertising on Twitter, though, doesn't intrude into the main purpose of viewing Time's Twitter feed. It's also visually unobtrusive and, compared to irritating pop-up ads, road-block advertising or even panels in Facebook, it strikes us as a rather clever way to get an advertising message across. And, since Biz Stone has promised Twitter will monetize its business by avoiding selling advertising space itself, it's one of the few ways you may end up seeing advertising on the site. Will other publishers follow suit?