The ads will appear as Promoted Tweets, which come up under certain search terms or in the timeline of Twitter users who follow a political campaign. Campaigns can also pay to appear on the top of search trends or to appear as suggested accounts to follow.
Promoted political tweets will be designated by a little purple check mark; commercial tweets sport an orange arrow. Campaigns who advertise on Twitter can also include a full, FEC-compliant disclaimer when users hover over their Promoted Tweets, Promoted Trends or Promoted Accounts.
Five campaigns have already signed up, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
“Twitter is a leading platform for real-time engagement and @MittRomney is constantly looking for ways to share his vision to turn around the economy,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
“We’re excited to continue leading the way in using new technologies to connect with our supporters,” said DSCC spokesman Shripal Shah. “Republicans have launched an all out war on seniors and middle-class families with their reckless agenda and we are going to hold them accountable in every way we can.” Here’s one of the committee’s first tweets, promoting President Obama’s “Buffet Rule.”
“ I can see these new political products being used frequently for rapid response and fundraising around the big, unpredictable moments that happen with every campaign,” said Mindy Finn, a Republican media strategist with Engage DC.
The company plans to expand to more campaigns once its political sales team is built up. Twitter hired Peter Greenberger, who worked on political advertising at Google for the past four years, as part of this effort.
Just last week, Twitter made the controversial decision to put Promoted Tweets in the timelines of people who don’t follow those brands — although the company makes an effort to match ads with a user’s perceived interests. For now, at least, political ads will only appear to that campaign’s followers or in searches.
Twitter, with a worldwide audience of about 100 million, has become a ubiquitous campaign promotional tool. Most candidates have not just their own Twitter feeds but accounts for staffers, campaign headquarters and family members. President Obama held a Twitter town hall earlier this year.
Mileage varies — former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 1.3 million Twitter followers has not translated into support from donors or poll respondents. White House Twitter campaigns such as #askobama and #attackwatch were hijacked and mocked by rivals.
“Advertising in an inherently interactive environment is risky,” said Micah Sifry, the co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum. “It will work best for campaigns or causes that are genuinely trying to weave networks of supporters, and backfire on anyone who thinks Twitter is like broadcast media.”
Campaigns have already started using targeted YouTube and Google ads to reach potential supporters.
Twitter recently expanded its D.C. lobbying shop, hiring Federal Communications Commission veteran Colin Crowell as head of global public policy. The company also just raised $400 million from venture capitalists and other investors.