On Christmas Eve of 2009, a handful of employees at Twitter received an unconventional holiday greeting from Dick Costolo, then the chief operating officer. “It was an email that said, ‘We have to move really, really fast. There’s no time to rest because we have a massive opportunity in front of us,’” recalled Anamitra Banerji, who headed the team that built Twitter’s first advertising product.
When Costolo joined as COO in September 2009, the three-year-old company was already under pressure. Over four months in 2010, Costolo worked with Banerji and Ashish Goel, a Stanford engineering professor who specialised in auction algorithms, to refine the promoted tweet. When Costolo unveiled the promoted tweet in April 2010, Twitter announced it as a trial for only five brands. But by the summer of 2010, Costolo felt confident enough that he began seeking a deputy to ramp up sales effort. He wooed courted Adam Bain, a rising star at News Corp. Under Bain, the Twitter ad team set its sights on the most lucrative advertising market of all: Television. “Hashtags”, which help people find the conversations they’re looking for on Twitter, soon grew ubiquitous on TV.
“It wasn’t easy for Twitter to explain to people why they should buy content on Twitter until they sold it as a companion to TV,” said Ian Schafer, CEO, digital advertising agency Deep Focus. “Now you’re even seeing the networks selling Twitter’s inventory for them. That’s magic.”