10% of Twitter Timeline Now Adverts

Promoted Tweets

As someone who isn’t socially-orientated, it doesn’t really bother me whether or not I log into Twitter. I’ll log in if I want to promote something immediately, or if I’ve got one-liners which are never going to grow into blog articles. But I more often consume Twitter content purely as a reader, and to do that, I don’t even need to visit the site, let alone log in…

On my most recent login to Twitter, however, I noticed I was seeing a lot of Promoted Tweets, so I thought I’d calculate what proportion of my timeline, exactly, they constituted. Around one in ten tweets was an ad. That’s approximately 10%, and it’s actually a pretty substantial chunk of that once sacred area of the personal timeline.


I know Twitter has shareholders to answer to, but is this really the way to do it? There has to be a balance between user experience and monetisation, and at a time when Twitter is still short of achieving a world-beating user experience (in many people’s eyes it’s going backwards), throwing too many ads in people’s faces could backfire.

Twitter’s main deficiencies in user-friendliness lie on the reader side. For those who just want to shout and shout and shout, but never listen, the site couldn’t be easier to use. But for those who want to read, Twitter is much more irksome and disjointed. With the new interface, following conversations has become more difficult, resource drain on desktop systems has seriously worsened, and huge numbers of users have complained about the placing of the engagement functions. For example, the button which shows who Faved a tweet is now so close to the actual Favourite button, that it’s inevitable people are going to Fave tweets by accident.

Other users have complained about Following or Retweeting by accident too, and this is not something to be taken lightly. If the user being Faved, Followed or Retweeted gets notifications, and it’s someone you really didn’t want to engage with, it can be embarrassing, and it’s a privacy flaw. Since shortly after the new interface was rolled out, I’ve predominantly read Twitter logged out. So now Twitter can’t associate my use with my account, it can’t serve me targeted ads… All because of stupid flaws in the user experience, on the reader’s side.

It’s the reader, not the shouter, that Twitter really needs to think about. The shouters never look at their timelines. They’re using bots, or Tweetdeck or whatever, so all they ever see is their own self-important noise. Advertisers won’t reach them because shouters are totally disengaged. It’s the readers who are the advertisers’ market. If Twitter got the experience right for readers, more people would read, and the site wouldn’t need to pump so many ads onto personal timelines in order to achieve a target number of impressions.


Of course, the next question is: where does this stop? Once advertisers are used to, and desensitised to the number of impressions Twitter can facilitate with the current ad-to-tweet ratio, what happens? If the site can’t get more people reading (and too many ads is yet another way of discouraging logged in readers), then will it be tempted to up that ratio further? Could it reach 1 in 5? Who knows? What is pretty obvious, is that unless bosses become more sensitive to why people do or don’t log in as readers, this is likely to be a slippery downward slope. Increasing ad-to-tweet ratio is a short term measure to boost ad impressions at the expense of reader experience. But so many short term tactics in business have negative effects in the long term, that the prognosis is grim.

Short term, fast action measures like this are hard to reverse, and therefore, so are their long-term, negative effects. Why would I tolerate a 10% ad ratio when I can just log out and read ad-free? I wouldn’t, obviously.