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WaPo Buys the #Election

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, November 2 2010

First off, did you know that people can buy trending topics on Twitter? Right, yes, me too.

And that's what the Washington Post has done, snatching up the "#election" hashtag on this, election day in the U.S. For the Post, it's a chance to force the news organization's election coverage to bubble up the top of the chatter on Twitter; for Twitter, of course, it's part of their strategy to make money off their enormously popular platform. "Promoted trends" launched in June as a monetization of the hashtag concept that Twitter's user base organically launched and embraced. According to the Twitter website, hashtags have to meet some minimum bar of legitimate natural popularity before they can be purchased by organizations looking to capitalize on them; they are, according to Twitter, "already popular subjects on Twitter, but [that] may not have made their way into the Trending Topics list yet." But "promoted" is the right way to think about this, because having a paying sponsor can indeed push it above where it would otherwise rise in the Twitter ecosystem. Promoted trends link to promoted tweets, giving WaPo the top spot on the search results list for the #election hashtag.

Poynter's Steve Myers has the story on the Post's purchased popularity.

Twittter's promoted trends is a slightly different approach than a company like Google has taken, where the latter has long avoided blending paid-for search results with the top results produced by their algorithm. These paid-for trends are marked "Promoted," but their value comes in making them read to users as part of the natural stream of data that makes up the Twitter user experience.

But a lesson from the playground has salience here, too: you can't make people like you. The "promoted tweet" of the Post's running at the top of #election hashtag list is, at the moment, one for a Post story on what's facing Democrat-linked businesses in the new Congress. More than three hours old, it's been retweeted fewer than 20 times. The second tweet in the #election list has, by contrast, between retweeted more than 100 times. Posted by a London-based "freelance football blogger" named Paul Seery, it's a cross-Atlantic wish of good luck to Barack Obama and the Democrats luck on today's election. And it didn't cost him a pence.

(via Alexis Madrigal)

Update: techPresident friend Tom Watson points out that he's been waging a lonely war against Twitter's "promoted trends": "It's entirely inauthentic, just shy of truly offensive, and deeply at odds with the ethos that has governed Twitter up until 2010..."