Twitter is looking at introducing advertisements among the short messages that users see in the most active part of the social networking service, according to people with direct knowledge of its plans.
The move comes as Twitter looks at a wider range of options to generate revenues from a service that has so far failed to make money from its audience as effectively as rivals such as Facebook.
The move to place “promoted tweets” in the main “stream” of tweets on the service is likely to be controversial with users who have seen only limited and unobtrusive marketing messages so far in Twitter’s five-year history.
Other commercial options under discussion include deals and offers similar in style to rival Groupon, which aggregates consumer demand for time-limited specific offers. It is also looking at introducing enhanced profile pages for brands and media management tools, which could allow advertisers to pre-schedule 140-character posts.
Twitter executives, including Adam Bain, head of revenue, have been meeting with marketers and agencies on the fringes of the Cannes Lions event this week to discuss new ways of harnessing its 300m registered users for advertising.
Twitter introduced “promoted tweets”, its first advertising products last year. Modelled on Google’s search advertising system, promoted tweets appear when users type in relevant terms using Twitter’s search facility.
It also now offers “promoted trends”, at the top of the list of the most popular topics of discussion on the site, and “promoted accounts” in a list of recommended users to follow.
Although some brands, such as Coca-Cola, have had success with these formats, Twitter is looking for something that can offer greater scale.
According to three people familiar with the situation, Twitter’s plans under consideration would see “promoted tweets” appear in their main timeline, the main focus of the Twitter website. Twitter had tested such ads with a third-party mobile client, HootSuite.
Users could also see tweets from a brand they follow appear high up in their stream even though they were posted hours previously. The introduction of a “QuickBar” in Twitter’s iPhone software, which prominently displayed promoted trends in the timeline, prompted an uproar from users earlier this year, forcing Twitter to remove the feature.
Twitter said in a blog post at the time that it would be “bold in the product decisions we make” and remove features if they did not “improve the user experience or serve our mission”.
“We believe there are still significant benefits to increasing awareness of what’s happening outside the home timeline,” it wrote in March. “Evidence of the incredibly high usage metrics for the QuickBar support this.”
Twitter said: “We are always talking with marketers about ways they could potentially get more out of Twitter. Some of these discussed concepts may materialise; others will not.”
Twitter is expected to generate revenues of about $100m this year, compared with Enders Analysis’ forecast of Facebook’s $3.5bn from display advertising alone.
“Twitter are getting it together, slowly,” said one agency executive familiar with the company’s plans. The service’s integration into Apple’s next version of its iPhone mobile software is a “massive coup”, the executive added.
Another said: “They are going to get much more commercial.”