The future of advertising is here, and it’s 140 characters long

Twitter has long been the social platform with both millions of dedicated users, alongside tens of millions who can’t quite figure out what the fuss is all about, and until very recently lacking any visible business model. However we could be on the cusp of the biggest change coming to the platform in its four years. This began with the launch of promoted tweets earlier this year, which let marketers pay to get a tweeted message in front of a wider audience. Promoted trends and accounts have since followed, expanding the possibilities for a brand to build a Twitter following.

A site redesign, rolled out slowly this past fall, opens the door wide. Most Twitter users on the web are now accessing the service through this shiny new interface – when not using a smartphone or other popular dashboards such as Tweetdeck. This new UI has one standout feature: the entire right side is ultimately a vehicle to deliver additional content; already coming complete with a dashboard of followers and trends, as well as the ability to integrate pictures and video.

As advertisers dip their toes in this river of promoted tweets, they will gain access to valuable user data including feedback such as how many people click on links, re-use hashtags, retweet a post, or follow (and yes, unfollow) the tweeter. While the Twitter reporting dashboard is still basic, this kind of digital trail will bring valuable insights as to which promoted content really works with Twitter’s 190 million visitors per month (a user number quoted by new CEO Dick Costolo while still operating as COO, earlier this year).

This all sounds promising, yet many brands are still likely hesitant due to Twitter’s lack of ROI for these promoted services. Combined with the prospect of stumping up a hefty price for the mere 24 hour lifecycle of a promoted tweet, and Twitter’s lack of concrete plans on how it will sell that new right-hand panel, means this is still a service that will be harder to justify when budget spend is being carved out.

Don’t count your chickens

Let’s not forget Twitter was the platform that literally put the chicken before the egg when it built its application programming interface (API) – the interface implemented by a software program that enables it to interact with other software – before the platform itself. The team cleverly exposed all the API data that was crucial to the service to developers before Twitter was even launched. This was a far cry from the industry norm of releasing limited API – often seen as a platform’s secret sauce – once it has been established.

This move was clever because it created a large, diverse ecosystem of software applications built around the Twitter platform. Everyday functionality such as Twitter search came from the extended Twitter developer ecosystem rather than the Twitter team themselves. Through removing the burden of coming up with all the ideas, Twitter accelerated the levels of innovation around itself tenfold.

So what’s not to say this will not happen again, as Twitter works in partnership with brands carefully as it finds its feet in this brave new advertising-based world? Twitter is benefitting from the combined expertise of its early adopter advertising partners, remaining coy about the exact details of collaborations with market leaders including Coca Cola and Starbucks. Yet what is likely is that we will see the development of new promoted content-based Twitter ads and services, created in conjunction with forward thinking brands and their creative teams and partners.

Twitter’s history of cooperative product development over its four years (which in bird years must be a lifetime) would serve to support yet another shrewd move in carving out a new advertising medium, 140 characters at a time.