Today Twitter announced it will be expanding promoted tweets into the user's timeline (they had previously only been in search results) on Twitter is slowly rolling this out with some of its premier clients over the next few weeks. Ultimately, advertisers will now have three options for using paid media in Twitter:

  1. Promoted accounts suggesting new businesses (or people) to follow.
  2. Promoted trends.
  3. And now promoted tweets in search results and within the timeline of only users who follow them.

When I spoke with Adam Bain, president of Global Revenue at Twitter, he stressed the user's experience is the No. 1 priority, and that's why you can only promote a tweet in the timeline of one of your followers and not push them out to non-followers, and why users can dismiss them with a click. How's that different from just tweeting to your followers? The issue comes down to the users actually seeing the tweet. When you tweet to your followers, there's no guarantee they'll see it (if you follow as many people as I do, you probably won't see it). Yet with the new promoted tweets a follower can sign on later and still see it included near the top of their timeline. As Forrester CEO George Colony recently pointed out, balancing advertising with the experience will be difficult. But it's clear the company is following a similar path that Facebook and Google have taken: focus on user experience first but incorporate advertising as a main source of revenue.

So when should you use promoted tweets and other forms of paid media in your social media marketing? In a recent research piece I identified two specific ways paid media can affect your social marketing efforts:

  1. As a conversation catalyst. Several brands have leveraged tools like promoted tweets and promoted trends to accelerate conversation. The social analytics firm Networked Insights released research this year showing the lift in social conversation created by big events like the Super Bowl. Brands like HBO have leveraged promoted tweets to drive conversation about their products and campaigns. In fact, many of the brands we've spoken to about promoted tweets have seen strong response (and retweet) numbers and are generally pleased with their experience.
  2. As a growth engine for social applications. Many brands have used paid media to grow their followers and fans within social networks. Best Buy used advertising within Facebook to build its initial fan base. The new expansion of promoted tweets to existing followers may not be the best tool for this but promoted tweets in search results, promoted trends, and especially promoted accounts can certainly help.

The bottom line: It's ok to use paid media in your social marketing efforts, but it's best to start by dipping your toe. The risk isn't in cost (most of these ads are performance based), it's in alienating your customers. Take a similar approach the social networks are taking: Focus on your organic efforts and the user experience first, and then try out paid media to accelerate your efforts.