Twitter’s been testing some, uh, questionable design tweaks to its platform throughout 2021, but its latest might be the worst yet. On Wednesday, company Revenue Product Lead Bruce Falck announced that Twitter would be testing out a new ad format that puts promoted tweets... into your conversations. The lucky Android and iOS users that are a part of this global test will now see ads in either the first, third, or eighth reply under a given tweet.
“We’re excited about trying this out for our advertisers and we’re eager to explore how it could open the door for additional opportunities to reward Tweet authors and creators,” Falck wrote. “We see a big opportunity to build an ad offering that creates value and aligns incentives for creators and advertisers.”
Listen, as a Twitter user myself, I’ve always been on board with some of its recently added features—like Tip Jars and Super Followers—that are designed to “reward” the platform’s power users for their content. But unlike either of those tools, Twitter ads aren’t a button you can paste to your profile. They’re ads. They’re annoying, intrusive, and sometimes deeply bizarre, which isn’t the type of content you’d want to shove in the center of the sorts of toxic convos that crop up on a lot of Tweeter’s timelines. Popping ads between people’s conversations feels like the last gasp of a platform that already know’s it’s shoved as many ads as it possibly could into every other nook and cranny of your feed and is desperate for some new way to squeeze profit from its users.
And it’s not hard to see why. When it comes to ad revenue, Twitter’s always been playing catch-up to other major platforms in the social media space. Last quarter, for example, the platform reported an impressive $1.05 billion in ad revenue—and while $1 billion is nothing to sneeze at, Facebook earned $10.4 billion in ad revenue that same quarter, while Amazon earned close to $8 billion. In other words, Twitter’s facing some, uh, pretty steep competition in a space where whichever platform gets the most eyeballs on its ads, wins.
It also needs advertisers that want to reach those eyeballs in the first place. Because Twitter’s gained a reputation of being a haven for hate speech, harassment, and, well, lots and lots of porn, marketers have historically felt kinda icked-out at the prospect of having their product shown alongside people’s feeds. And while Twitter has made some moves this year to assuage their concerns—more partnerships! more metrics! more audits!—the fact is, any Twitter user will tell you the platform still has loads of hate speech, harassment, and porn.
And, again, as a Twitter user, I can confirm that some of the worst parts of the platform aren’t happening inside people’s bad posts, but inside the conversation beneath those tweets. Hell, Twitter’s even trying out a system to let users know when they might be walking into a particularly messy conversation! It’s unclear whether Twitter’s trying to squeeze ads into its more “heated” convos—but considering how quickly the platform lets people devolve into absolute dickwads from one reply to the next, it seems unavoidable. And when that happens, hoards of advertisers are going to join the hoards of users that are screaming about how awful this “test” is going to be. If the company won’t listen to us, then I hope it listens to them.