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Promoted Tweets are now live. Yet, for most of us, there’s still a general curiosity about how this will work in the wild.

What does this mean for the partner advertisers? Are our search results and Twitter streams going to be spammed with advertisements now? Will Twitter ever be the same? Of course, the answers to those questions depend entirely on the individual advertiser.

The only real way to understand what Promoted Tweets means in the grand scheme of things is talk directly to the advertisers executing on Twitter’s vision. Virgin America’s vice president of marketing Porter Gale was more than happy to answer our questions and provide insight into the company’s strategy around Promoted Tweets.

What we discovered is that if used correctly — something Twitter plans to manage with resonance scores — Promoted Tweets could actually be meaningful additions to the Twitter experience.

Getting the Advertising Partner Deal

Twitter hand-selected a few businesses that they’re using as advertising partners during the phase one rollout of Promoted Tweets. In speaking with Gale we learned that Virgin America was approached by Twitter (and not the other way around) to participate in the new program. She credits the company’s inflight WiFi, general Twitter savvy, presence at tech events, public discussions about using Twitter and their all-around social media savvy as the primary reasons why Twitter selected them for this partnership.

Gale speaks very highly of Twitter and the opportunities that the ad platform make available to Virgin America. She says, “We love their brand and we think it’s a good fit because they’re tech savvy.”

During the discussion it became apparent that one of Virgin America’s goals is to highlight their own tech savvy, something this deal certainly affords them. The company is already seeing 300 to 500 inflight tweets per day, with anywhere from 6% to 15% of travelers logged into inflight WiFi. Participating in the Promoted Tweets initiative is certainly a logical next step on the Twitter front for the company.

As for the financials, we don’t know what the advertising partners are paying for their Promoted Tweets; Twitter has mandated that none of the partner brands disclose those details just yet. We do know, however, that whatever the payout, Virgin America is happy with the early results from their first promoted tweets.

Tailored Conversations and Relevant Travel Deals

Gale spoke strongly about Virgin America’s position around Promoted Tweets being about better engagement. She doesn’t see the paid-for-tweets as advertisements, but instead as opportunities to enhance the communication that they’re having with customers and followers.

To that effect the company is purposely burying their Promoted Tweets in nearly impossible to find search listings. By opting to select highly specific keywords Virgina American can assure that they will only be seen by Twitter searchers looking for something very specific. Gale describes the follower relationship as something sacred and one the company has no intention to disrupt. She says, “people have to really want the promotion to find the tweet.”

In fact, the company’s three promoted tweets are almost impossible to find in ad form. I tried practically every related keyword search term I could think of and still couldn’t find them. Save for using the specific term associated with the promo, Virgina America’s sponsored tweets won’t appear in your search results. And that’s the point. The airline has no intention of spamming their audience.

Inquiring minds can satisfy their curiosity around Virgin America’s plans for Promoted by taking a look at the three the company is running today. Each of the tweets are meant to remain consistent with the regular conversations the company has on Twitter.

VXREDHOT: The company is using the “Red Hot” tweet to give away promo codes (50% off of travel itineraries of two guests) to the first 500 Twitter followers that participate. They launched the promotion at 1:30 ET today and as of 5:15 ET it had sold out entirely.

Red: “#nowplaying Tell us what you’re watching on RED at 35,000 feet! (#nowplaying Avatar at 35,000 feet).” This Red tweet is less about promotion and more about engagement. It’s designed to get passengers currently flying Virgin America to share what their watching on Virgin America’s Red entertainment system while in transit.

Best Geek Moments: This tweet (when live) will be another super specific call to action for passengers currently using Virgin America’s inflight WiFi. They’re using this promoted tweet to encourage customers to share their best geek moments via Twitpic while up in the air.

Despite Twitter users’ reticence towards ads, we have a hard time believing that any of these Promoted Tweets would anger searchers who discovered them. In fact the inflight calls to action are actually quite clever. A passenger at 35,000 feet in air could be pleasantly surprised to find that the airline actually cares about their experience, as it’s happening.

New Market, New Medium

Other than travel deals and tailored engagement initiatives, Virgin America believes that Twitter and the Promoted Tweets program could potentially replace existing traditional marketing and advertising initiatives. They plan to put that theory to the test next week when they announce and promote the launch of a new market (a new destination city that they will fly out of) entirely via Twitter.

Gale tells us that, “We believe in the power of Twitter, and the power of retweeting, communities and digital influencers.”

Clearly that’s the case as the company is forgoing their traditional online banner ads and newspaper ads for the new market launch in favor of Twitter. While we weren’t able to get specifics, we do know that some of the Promoted Tweets Virgin America uses next week will be to support the initiative, get the word out and offer discounted fares to and from the new city in question.

[Img credits: crucially, chotda and 787 Dreamliner]

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Tags: MARKETING, Promoted Tweets, social media, twitter, virgin america