Twitter's Ad Platform Is Doomed To Fail

Apparently, Twitter disappointed the SXSW crowd by not unveiling Twitter’s new ad platform. It’s just as well: An ad platform from Twitter is doomed to fail.

Here’s why:

Back in the day, TV advertising was pretty effective. You know why? Combination of captive audience and the right delivery mechanism.

Back before Tivo and the remote control, lazy ass Americans (like me) stayed on the couch when commercials came on. I wasn’t getting up to change the channel, that’s for sure. Advertisers knew we weren’t going anywhere.

But in order to make sure their messages got through to us, they did something else, that in hindsight, was brilliant: They read (or performed, or even sang) their messages to us.

It’s not inconceivable to think that advertisers could have chosen to display the text of ads on the screen for us to read. After all, in the previous medium, radio, messages had to be read to the audience. Seems plausible to me that someone could have said “Phew! We don’t have to read ads to people anymore! They can read it for themselves.”

That didn’t happen, of course. If it had happened, TV advertising — and TV as an advertising-supported medium — would not have succeeded.

Roll the clock forward to 2010, and TV advertisers don’t have it so good. There’s no captive audience. Technology advancement and channel proliferation have freed us from advertising captivity. [We’re still lazy and don’t get up from the couch, though. OK, well I don’t].

And so marketers have turned their attention to alternative channels, and most recently, to Twitter.

But Twitter can’t — and won’t — ever succeed as an advertising channel.

First of all, we don’t want to read. It’s too much effort. TV and radio ads — and increasingly online ads — are verbal. Print ads are predominantly visual. Sure, there are many good text-intensive print ads, but those are typically for certain types of products.

There is another reason, perhaps not as important as the previous one, that helps to convince me that an ad platform from Twitter won’t succeed: People on Twitter aren’t there to listen to what anybody else has to say.

I’ve concluded that most — OK, maybe not most, but a lot of — people on Twitter are just bored, attention-starved egotists with nothing better to do than broadcast every thought that passes through their heads. That wouldn’t be so bad if they took the time to listen to what other people were saying. But they don’t.

You might think that I’m offending some people by characterizing them as attention-starved egotists. Doesn’t matter. I’m not offending any of you. By definition. The fact that you’re reading this separates you from them.

What convinces me that so many Twits aren’t listening is this: I have 976 Twitter followers, and (on a good day) 77 subscribers to this blog.

Assuming all the blog subscribers are Twitter followers, why are there 900 people so keen to follow me on Twitter — where I say absolutely nothing of redeeming value — but unwilling to read what I write on this blog?

The answer is that they could care less what I have to say. They follow me strictly in the hope that I will reciprocate and follow back. They follow me in the hope that I will listen to them, even though they have no intention on listening to me.

And if they won’t read what I write here, or on Twitter for that matter, why do you, dear marketers and advertisers, think they’re going to read what you tweet?

No willingness to read + no willingness to listen = No advertising platform success for Twitter.

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6 thoughts on “Twitter's Ad Platform Is Doomed To Fail

  1. Your 820 Twitter followers that don’t read this blog are only getting 5% of the snark and wisdom they could with a full-fledged Ron Shevlin experience. Shame on them.

    What’s always been interesting (and sad, I guess) to me is that as the number of my followers on Twitter has skyrocketed, the number of readers on my blog has not. I’m to blame, of course, because that means I haven’t done enough to compel them to dive deeper into my thoughts. I haven’t published consistently or frequently enough to really boost my readership.

    And, perhaps a sign that I’m finally maturing (doubtful), I haven’t really cared. People don’t read because they don’t care. More to the point, they can’t care. Our world of hyper-connectedness makes it impossible to give adequate attention to that which we have voluntarily connected to. That realization has led me to believe that social media, at least for 80% of the friends/followers/connections/etc. you are associated with, has come full circle back to the world of one-way, Web 1.0 communications. We’ve approached our online relationships with a “growth at any cost” approach.

    Guess what? We grew too fast.

  2. Warrior: Gotta disagree with you on one point, and 100% agree with you on another.

    You said “I’m to blame” b/c Twitter follower count has increased faster than blog readership. I don’t think it’s your fault at all, and I would be willing to bet it’s the same story with 95% of the other bloggers out there. First, Twitter is new, so people jump on the bandwagon. Second, reading a blog post requires 10x more effort than reading a tweet. Who are we fooling thinking people are going to make the effort. (I was considering doing this post as one of the silly animated cartoons (i.e., Twitter Bitches) because twice as many people will watch that than will read this post).

    Your observation that 80% of SM connections is one-way Web 1.0 communications is a great point. I don’t know that it’s 80%, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a high percentage. But — for better or worse — the beauty/benefit of an effective tool is that it lets different people use it for different purposes. So if people want to use Twitter or other social media tools for one-way communication, so be it. They’re not wrong for using it the way they want to (thx to JP for helping me to finally realize that).

  3. Hey Ron,

    Insightful post as always. Twitter is either going to have a successful ad platform or they are going to have to charge a subscription fee to users. Twitter is a cool concept but there comes a time when you have to generate revenue to pay back the investors.

  4. Joe: In retrospect, I should have titled this post “why twitter’s ad platform deserves to fail”. Because the reality is that desperate, clueless advertisers, looking to flee from the existing non-performing channels they’re investing in, will flock to an ad platform. Because it’s the “new and hot” thing. Logic and reason won’t stop them from advertising on a Twitter ad platform.

  5. [insert sarcasm] why should Twitter pay for advertising execs short comings?

    I am annoyed like you with marketing and advertising types – really people who think they know that profession that don’t have that job function or title – who see Twitter [you name the new hot thing] as the silver bullet to selling more. The new advertising mediums too often let the inadequate marketers continue to generate sub par messages.

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