Here’s how it works: Twitter recommends people to follow based on an algorithm of shared interests. For example, it recently suggested that I follow Alyson Hurt, an interactive Web designer at NPR. Her Tweets — mostly about the intersection of art, journalism and technology — appeal to me.
That same day, however, Twitter also suggested that I follow Mitt Romney. I rarely tweet about government. I do not hail from Massachusetts. This time, Twitter was looking out for Romney’s interests, not mine. The tweet is labeled as an ad with a small-print “Promoted.” Hover over the text and the Federal Election Committee legalese appears: “Paid for by Romney for President, Inc.”
Neither Twitter nor Romney would say how much he paid for the link, but Pierre Legrain, an ex-advertising executive for Twitter, wrote online that the price would fall between a few cents and few dollars each time a person clicks on it. Romney does not appear for every Twitter user; the campaign targets “politically motivated” people, which includes those who search Romney’s name on the site, said Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign’s digital director.
Twitter attracts people who Moffatt views as “hyperactivists” — or the type who will also spread Romney’s message in the offline world. Moffatt knows this, because Twitter has collected a trove of information about its users based on Internet usage.
Moffatt said, “TV is kind of a shotgun approach. [With online ads], you’re not just blasting it out there and hoping people are paying attention.”