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Virtually since its inception, Twitter has been determining how to best monetize the site without turning the microblogging platform into just another advertising channel. Twitter announced that starting November 1, it would take “a deliberate and thoughtful approach” to begin testing the syndication of Promoted Tweets (aka. ads) in HootSuite users’ timelines.

What are Promoted Tweets, you ask? They’re tweets advertisers buy, much in the same way advertisers pay to sponsor links among Google top search results.

According to Twitter’s official blog, since April 2010 when the Promoted Tweets feature made its debut, “users have engaged with Promoted Products on Twitter at rates that far exceed typical forms of online advertising.”

A natural next step for Twitter was to start including Promoted Tweets into users’ timelines. As an initial test, the “embedded” Promoted Tweets have rolled out exclusively on third-party Twitter client, HootSuite. HootSuite makes it clear that the ads are specifically targeted and only appear in your timeline if they’re relevant – some users may not see any ads while others may see them with more frequency; it’s all based on what you tweet about and who you follow on Twitter.

It was very wise of Twitter to do a trial run with this tool’s users – reportedly more than 900,000. HootSuite gets something out of this arrangement too; while Twitter will be responsible for the actual ad sales, HootSuite will receive part of the profit from the sales. Twitter emphasized its desire to make Promoted Tweets “useful and authentic to the Twitter experience” so it’ll be interesting to see how HootSuite users react to the insertion of Promoted Tweets into their timelines and what adjustments Twitter makes before the Promoted Tweets feature appears outside of HootSuite, if the current test drive proves successful.

 

Speaking of Twitter’s promotions, a rep from Twitter reported that the site sold the hashtag #election to The Washington Post as a promoted trend for November 2. This deal was only presented to a few potential advertisers.

BNET’s Catharine Taylor makes an excellent point by noting that selling the hashtag the day before the election meant there was little chance of politicians buying it, if Twitter would have even allowed it. However, I can’t help but wonder what could have happened if the #election hashtag was purchased by a campaign. Who would have been the first to snatch it up?  Who would have paid the most and how much would they have paid? What party affiliation? Would it be a candidate or a cause?

 

The notion of purchasing hashtags/trending topics, while novel, raises more questions. For instance, who can purchase them? What topics and tags are not eligible? Best practices that are accessible to all users must emerge to keep up with the evolving monetization of Twitter.

There are tremendous possibilities for marketers to be creative with their use of Promoted Trending Topics, purchased hashtags and Promoted Tweets. I’m definitely looking forward to watching these issues continue to unfold.

-Contributed by Anne Norris. Follow her @anne_norris