Twitter could become a victim of its own success. The microblogging service has had an amazing 974% increase in traffic in the past year. According to Alexa, the site is now the 213th most popular web site in the UK and the 144th most viewed site in the USA. Around 3m people visit the site every day. Impressive.

But perhaps not for long. Today we see that Dell is now using Twitter as an advertising medium. They are sending out “tweets” (the short, 140 character messages on Twitter) promoting a particular product. Respond via the tweet and you get a discount. Each week, Dell will be tweeting a new offer to its followers in Twitter.

It’s not the first time that people have used Twitter to advertise products. But herein lies the problem. Now that a major player like Dell has seen the marketing potential of Twitter, others will follow. Soon, the Twitter world will be awash with adverts, rather than useful information. Soon, we’ll have “people” joining Twitter who are nothing more than marketing mouthpieces for large corporations and retailers. Sorting out what is a real message on Twitter from a marketing message will become increasingly difficult as more marketers take up the challenge.

In the world of web pages, newspapers, radio, TV we can block out the unwanted interruptions of the advertising if we wish (and mostly we do wish to do that). We can eliminate the advertising from our consciousness because it is comparatively small when compared with the rest of the content. A newspaper advert may be a half or quarter page and most of the pages have little advertising. Generally a newspaper has an average of 30% of the space taken up with adverts. On radio or TV, there are more minutes of real content than advertising interruptions. On the web, we ignore the banner ads because there is more on the page that is interesting.

On Twitter this balance is disturbed. The adverts are the same length as the real content – 140 characters. There is no subconscious way of distinguishing between them. Hence we will become increasingly annoyed with the advertisers and we’ll find Twitter less valuable.

Just as Twitter appears to be making a real breakthrough, Dell could have killed it.

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