Is Twitter Spamming Users?

When Twitter announced that Promoted Tweets would be appearing near the top of your timeline, it specifically said that you would be served tweets from organizations and brands that you follow.  Here’s the exact language from Twitter’s July 28 blog post (bold emphasis is mine):  “Starting today, we’re introducing a way to ensure that the most important Tweets from the organizations you follow reach you directly, by placing them at or near the top of your timeline.”

That’s also what Adam Bain told TechCrunch in this July 28 interview: “As always, the Promoted Tweets will be relevant to consumers. You already follow the brand.”  That’s also how it was covered by the press, like this Adweek story, and this PC Mag report.

So imagine how suprised I was when I saw this in my timeline today:

At first, I didn’t even notice it was a Promoted Tweet.  When scanning the timeline, I tend to look first at the user names, to see if there are any new tweets from people I know well.   Travel Wisconsin?  I could not remember following that account so I figured I must have done so accidentally and went to unfollow them.   Guess what?  I’m not following them.  And here’s a tweet from them that is completely irrelevant to me (with no disrespect to Wisconsin, which I’m sure is a lovely place to visit in February).

It turns out that, not even two months after making their big announcement about adding Promoted Tweets into the timeline, but only for brands you are following, Twitter quietly leaked a couple of stories that most of us missed (or at least I did), without making any additional announcements on its own blog.

“Now Appearing in Timelines:  Promoted Tweets From Brands You Don’t Follow” was the headline of a September 13 story in Mashable.  A similar story ran in the Huffington Post, which quoted Twitter’s Matt Graves:  “Initially, we will make this feature available to a single-digit percentage of our global user base,” wrote Graves. “Of this group, we will only show Promoted Tweets to people from advertisers relevant to their interests. We are carefully measuring how users respond to and engage with these Tweets; based on this response, we will roll this capability out to a wider audience in the coming months.”

I guess the broader roll-out is now upon us.

Here’s how Twitter describes Promoted Tweets on its advertiser information page:

Promoted Tweets in timelines: Use Promoted Tweets to amplify messages to your followers or users who are like your followers. Promoted Tweets targeted to users’ timelines appear at or near the top of their timeline when they log-on or refresh their homepage.

    • Targeting followers puts your message in front of your brand advocates
    • Targeting users like your followers extends the reach of your campaign and brand to more users who are receptive to your message

From Twitter’s Help Pages:

“A Promoted Tweet will appear in a user’s timeline only if the Tweet is likely to be interesting and relevant to that user.  Our platform uses a variety of signals to determine which Promoted Tweets are relevant to users, including what a user chooses to follow, how they interact with a Tweet, what they retweet, and more.”

So how do you think users will react as they start seeing more of these Promoted Tweets from brands they don’t follow in their timelines?

I’m still not sure what signal I sent that made Twitter feel that a February date in Wisconsin was relevant to me (it’s not:  I’m married and live 1,000+ miles away from Wisconsin), but it sure felt like spam to me.