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Marketers Thwart TweetNothings, Move Toward ROI

Marketers are discovering more and more ways they might potentially leverage Twitter to make money, even as the microblogging site appears to be doing its best to ignore - and in some cases, outright discourage them.

In a keynote presentation at the ongoing Web 2.0 Summit conference held in San Francisco, Twitter CEO Evan Williams was adamant that the site remains focused on improving its product and technology - at the expense of developing a monetization path.

Williams even went so far as to dismiss "TweetWords" and "TweetSense," two theoretical products jokingly proposed by Summit co-host and moderator John Battelle that play off Google's product line.

He did give some hope that the site will eventually introduce advertising channels. "I can't tell you exactly what the model is, but there is some way where advertising makes sense for Twitter," Williams said, according to Computerworld. "We like the prospects for Twitter because there is a lot of brand marketing on Twitter today..Businesses of all kinds realize that if they can get people following them on Twitter or get their messages seen on Twitter … it'll drive foot traffic."

This is not the first time Williams has appeared unbothered by the absence of a clear monetization plan. At the annual conference for the Online News Association earlier this month, he similarly told journalists that he feels no pressure to come up with a revenue model for Twitter.

With or Without Twitter 

Impatient marketers, however, are not waiting for Twitter to come up with a formal ad program. On Tuesday, in what it is claiming may be the largest offer for a single internet banner ad, marketing company uSocial.net offered Twitter $500,000 to place a banner ad on the site for 24 hours.

"While half-a-million dollars may seem like a large amount to invest in one banner for one day, we believe that the investment will be more than worth it," according to uSocial.net CEO Leon Hill.

From Start-ups to Software Providers

Less splashy monetization possibilities also are being offered by a range of companies - from start-up ad platforms to e-mail marketing software providers to marketers themselves. The Service Employees International Union, for example, recently introduced an ad that contains canned text that Twitter users can post to their stream in order to drive interest in a cause. "This one's for a union, sure, but who wouldn't want to tweet about some delicious McDonald's fries?" according to AppScout.

Other examples of how organizations are seeking to integrate Twitter into online marketing:

  • ExactTarget recently introduced developed a tool that allows users to integrate their e-mail marketing content with Twitter.
  • Ad.ly is an in-stream advertising platform that enables Twitter publishers to make money from the content they produce by sending one Tweet every other day from advertisers that they approve. The publishers are able to set the price they want advertisers to pay and can optionally donate part or all of their earnings to charity. Essentially the publisher - most likely a celebrity - "gets a lot of cash in return for a couple of messages that are under 140 characters, and Ad.ly takes its cut," according to TechCrunch. Much depends on the ultimate success of this model - "including whether celebrities keep signing up and using the service and if Ad.ly will be able to pay their promised dues." One positive sign for Ad.ly is that GRP Partners has just closed a $500,000 seed round for the site and may lead or join follow-up VC financing rounds if the startup keeps performing well.
  • Assetize.com is selling ads next to high-volume tweeters. Assetize.com's experiences with Twitter, however, show that Twitter will fend off advertising initiatives that it feels are inappropriate, according to The Globe and Mail. Founder Saif Ajani said the initial concept was to essentially run an auction house for Twitter accounts. But shortly after the service launched, Twitter asked it be shut down. "Twitter wasn't happy about it," Ajani said. Assetize has just relaunched with its new model - and has yet to hear from the micro-blogging site. "The fact that Twitter hasn't opposed it is a great sign," he added.

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