When Ryan Downey signed up to automatically promote his tweets, he thought he was doing himself a favor.
Downey, a freelance journalist who joined Twitter in 2007, had previously experimented with the platform’s traditional method of advertising: promoting specific tweets to a tailored audience. He mostly did so because he wanted to publicize his stories, but he found the traditional approach wasn’t particularly effective. And so, when he received an invitation in 2017 to try a service called Promote Mode—through which Twitter would automatically promote his tweets—he went along with it. He assumed the platform would know better than anyone which tweets to highlight.
That appears to have been a mistake.
“I think about canceling it at least 75% of the time I think about it at all,” Downey tells OneZero. “I’m never aware of what tweet is being promoted until I get a reply [from someone] that says, ‘Why is this a promoted tweet?’ Which happens regularly.” (After we spoke the first time, Downey followed up a few weeks later and said that he had, indeed, canceled it.)
At its core, Promote Mode, which launched in 2017, is simple: Users pay to have their tweets automatically beamed into people’s timelines. Twitter calls it an “automated, always-on advertising solution,” intended for people who don’t have the money or time to devise an ad campaign but who want to build their brand or their company’s brand. In practice, this means paying $99 per month to send your first 10 tweets of the day to an audience that matches certain interests or locations. (Quote tweets, replies, or retweets aren’t included, and selected tweets must adhere to Twitter’s quality filter.)
This simplicity can transmogrify into something deeply, hilariously, and wonderfully weird. Promote Mode, you see, doesn’t seem to be able to distinguish between tweets that are truly intended to further a user’s brand and tweets that are about, say, irritating neighbors. It’s like a toddler, thrashing around in the backyard, pulling up fistfuls of grass. Occasionally, it scoops up an errant piece of dog poop.