Twitter Ads Make It Seem Like People Follow Brands, Even If They Don’t
Visa follows MasterCard? So it seemed. Twitter's expansion of ads into "Following" lists can make people seem to follow accounts, even if they don't.
Take a look at your “Following” list on Twitter. You might find some brands or people showing up there, even if you don’t follow them. If so, that seems due to either a new change or a newly noticed change in how Twitter is doing placement for promoted accounts.
Credit to William Shatner who spotted this first — or if not first — has been the most vocal about it. He noted that MasterCard was showing up on the list of accounts he was following, even though he wasn’t actually following them.
As he tweeted:
Shatner also noted that for “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson, who follows only one person, MasterCard was magically showing up as a second account being followed:
But it’s not just celebrities that were having MasterCard showing up in their Following lists. It happened to me, as you can see below:
When I asked on Twitter, a range of people reported to me that they also had MasterCard in their Following lists.
Twitter: Placement Like This Since 2013
Twitter has long allowed advertisers to buy followers by promoting their accounts in Twitter timelines and elsewhere. As Twitter’s ad help area describes, a “Followers” campaign positions ads in a variety of places:
Follower Campaigns are displayed in multiple locations across the Twitter platform, including Home Timelines, Who to Follow, and search results. You may see a Followers campaign if a Follower campaigns is relevant to you.
What seemed new is that Follower campaigns were putting promoted accounts into the Following lists of others.
About twelve hours after this story initially posted, Twitter got back to me to say there’s been no change to its Follower / Promoted Accounts. These ad types have run since 2013 and apparently displayed even in Following lists, Twitter told Marketing Land.
It’s not clear to me why so many seemed to have spotted them recently, however. Certainly Shatner drew attention to them, which caused others to look. But Shatner is also an extremely savvy Twitter user. If these ads had been showing up in his Following list since 2013, I’d have expected him to notice way before now.
Potentially Misleading Endorsements?
It’s a clever — but it’s also potentially misleading or confusing as a potential endorsement, as Shatner pointed out:
Even though the tweets are marked as promoted, that still might not be clear enough disclosure for the typical person.
Soon after Shatner tweeted about MasterCard showing up, it disappeared from his Following list, as well as from many others. Possibly, so many people checking their Following lists caused MasterCard to appear so much that it hit its daily budget for showing ads.
Blocking An Advertiser Only Means New Ad Will Appear
Alternatively, MasterCard may have stopped the account in response to people blaming it for doing something that actually was a change in Twitter accounts. Consider the tweet from Anne Wheaton about blocking MasterCard:
I’ve seen tweets from others wanting to block MasterCard over this. But while that may remove the MasterCard placement, other promoted campaigns might take its place.
Shatner reported that IFC showed up after he blocked MasterCard:
And over on Barack Obama’s account, while MasterCard is gone, another promoted account took its place (fifth on the screenshot below):
I asked Twitter if there was a way for brands to opt-out of placement in Following lists, to avoid the type of blocking and negative reaction MasterCard faced. It gave no answer.
- Twitter is putting ads into Following lists, something it says is over a year old but clearly not noticed much before now
- The brands and accounts being placed this way don’t appear to have asked for this type of specific targeting (so you might want to be upset at Twitter more than them)
- Blocking an account appears to remove them from showing in your Following list, but other promoted accounts might take their place
- No one is actually being made to follow accounts by this change. It’s merely an ad that shows up your following list, not an new account you’re actually following.
Postscript (2pm PT): This story was updated to include comments from Twitter; the word “New” was dropped from the start of the headline.