Twitter has announced a new plan to get more eyeballs for its Promoted Tweets ad products. Now, the ads will appear “at or near the top” of the user’s timeline, not just in search results.

For in-stream promoted tweets, only users who follow the account that sends the promoted tweet will see the ad, and the ads can be hidden from the stream on a one-by-one basis. While there won’t be a setting to disable all commercial promoted tweets, Twitter spokesperson Carolyn Penner told VentureBeat, “Because users are already following these brands and because Promoted Tweets are just normal tweets, these messages are already a part of the users’ Twitter experience.”

Putting these tweets out of chronological order is a bit of a departure from how the Twitter timeline has always worked, and it’s likely to cause some rancor among the service’s users. However, as a wise man once observed, “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” And since chronologically ordered promoted tweets wouldn’t do brands any favors, the top-of-stream tweak is likely the least offensive commercially viable way to introduce promoted tweets into timelines.

This format is part of Twitter’s fascinating ad-as-product advertising strategy. As our eyes get more accustomed to tuning out traditional online display ads, we continue to relentlessly hone in on the content itself. By integrating the ad (Promoted Tweets) with the content (regular tweets) and by making sure the content of the ad isn’t too divorced from what users might typically want or expect to see in non-commercial content, Twitter is attempting to decrease tune-out, increase engagement and offer advertisers a much better return on investment for their online ad dollars.

“We’re seeing incredible engagement numbers — between 3 percent and 5 percent on average for Promoted Tweets… We’ve seen some as high as 52 percent,” said Penner, pointing out that this stat is “orders of magnitude higher” than clickthrough rates for other types of online advertising, which typically range from less than half a percent to 1 percent. “That level of engagement is unheard of in the digital advertising world.”

Twitter defines engagement as a clickthrough, but it also counts retweets, replies and favorites in its engagement numbers — meaning that part of the ROI includes one-on-one conversations with fans of the brand. That kind of engagement is what could soon make Twitter a true contender — along with Google and Facebook — for the ad budgets of major international brands. All it needs now is the massive userbase of a mainstream web application. The startup is tackling both components of that goal (consumers and big brands) with two key hires announced this week.

The new promoted tweets will be coming first from the Twitter accounts of corporations and brands such as Best Western, Dell, Gatorade, Groupon, HBO, JetBlue, LivingSocial, Microsoft Xbox, Red Bull, Sephora, Starbucks and Virgin America as well as nonprofit organizations, including charity: water, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Room to Read, The American Red Cross and

Image courtesy of Transit Notes.

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