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Marketers Atwitter

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About a month after Twitter launched its first ad program, Promoted Tweets, which inserts ads into tweets, marketers are chirping the program's praises.

Initial advertisers, including Virgin America, Bravo TV and Red Bull, point to ROI success. For instance, Virgin used Promoted Tweets as the sole means of announcing its expansion into Toronto, offering 50 percent off for the first 500 travelers who flew out of two California airports. Thanks to retweeting, said Porter Gale, Virgin's vp, marketing, the offer sold out in three hours.

Bravo used the program in conjunction with parent NBC Universal's Earth Week initiatives. Inviting consumers to find out their green IQ in a game on its Web site, the offer hit the maximum number of Promoted Tweets' retweets allowed, 300, within a couple of hours, said Ellen Stone, svp, marketing at Bravo. In one day, she added, it received 200,000 impressions.

Twitter rolled out its ad platform with marketers who were already active fans. A major difference between Promoted Tweets, which appear at the top of some search results pages, and a regular Tweet is if users don't interact with an advertiser-supported one, it disappears.

"It gives us [an] exponentially growing number of marketing opportunities," said Stone of the program. "This is a search opportunity -- it's not to the entire Twitter base. When we message, the only ones that stay up are the ones that resonate." Key to Stone's use of Promoted Tweets? Leveraging trending topics on Twitter, either ones that exist or ones they create.

The day Virgin America's Promoted Tweets went live it recorded its fifth-highest sales day in its history, said Gale. Retweeting obviously helped, she added, but so did association with the latest thing on Twitter. That is, part of that consumer response reflected the amount of free press Virgin America received -- worth $10 million, she estimated -- from media coverage of the new ad program, which often mentioned its initial advertisers.

Gale explained that with Promoted Tweets, marketers can load a message into a Twitter dashboard and move away from manual tweets sent by an individual. And while Virgin America, she said, received some initial tweets complaining about spam, since then it's actually had user requests for more prominent display of the paid tweets. When Virgin started using Promoted Tweets, it had 64,000 followers on Twitter. Three weeks later, it has 76,000.

For Red Bull, many consumers have been responding to Promoted Tweets containing news and highlights related to company-sponsored athletes like Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn, the launch of RedBull.tv, Red Bull Air Race and the science behind Red Bull Stratos.

"Engagement rates have been higher than typical cost-per-click and CPM advertising," said a company rep. "We're not approaching Promoted Tweets as a one-way digital broadcast ad platform."

Promoted Tweets are also attracting the attention of potential brand partners to Red Bull-owned media properties like Stratos, Air Race and Flugtag, he said. Red Bull wants to roll out its Promoted Tweets globally as Twitter expands availability beyond the U.S. and into the third-party Twitter ecosystem when available.

Industry watchers say while marketers currently bid on Promoted Tweet keywords on a CPM basis, Twitter wants to develop a resonance score for it that will measure the amount of reach and impact of the tweet.

But "tracing resonance is going to be a challenge. You can put a message out there that doesn't require an action," said Chad Stoller, evp, director of digital strategy at BBDO, whose client, Starbucks, is part of the Promoted Tweets pilot.

A Twitter rep, Sean Garrett, said, "We're not going to talk performance until we move to the next phase."

Virgin America's Gale cautioned that Promoted Tweets could see a backlash if not used properly. "We're not going after competitors," she said. "We don't want to steal followers. We want to engage our followers."

See also:

"Social Media Becomes Pervasive"

"Twitter Starts 'Promoted Tweets' Ad System"

"Facebook: Into the Open Graph"