Stupid Tricks with Promoted Tweets

Andy Baio
The Message
Published in
4 min readFeb 4, 2015


Twitter’s Promoted Tweets are, at best, a necessary evil. At worst, they’re tweets from @Satan himself — brands shoving their unwanted products into your carefully-curated timelines.

But with today’s news that we’ll soon start seeing Twitter Ads outside of Twitter, I thought I’d take a deeper look to see if I could exploit Promoted Tweets for my own personal enjoyment.

I found this on Twitter’s official brand assets site, so I’m going to assume it’s safe to use.

Targeting individuals

Twitter supports promoting tweets to “tailored audiences,” a list of email addresses, phone numbers, or Twitter usernames for the people you want to target.

My first impulse was to use this to promote a tweet to a single person. This could come in handy in the workplace:

Or maybe saying hi to a friend:

Unfortunately, Twitter predicted this and returns a “too few users” error when uploading a list with less than 500 matching users.

So much for my plan to use Twitter for meeting requests.

(In theory, you could create a list of 500 inactive users and then add the one person you’re actually hoping to target, but that seemed like a lot of work.)

Targeting groups

You can, however, promote a tweet to a group of 500 or more Twitter users like, say, Twitter employees.

Or how about campaigning legislators for something you care about for a change?

Magic tweets

While making these campaigns, I noticed a little dialog box:

What does this mean? Anyone can post magical tweets in a semi-private and unlisted state, even without running a campaign. (Twitter originally referred to these as “nullcasted” tweets, but now calls them “promoted-only.”)

Each tweet will get a permanent link, but won’t show up in your timeline, Twitter’s search engine, or to anyone who follows you. Weirdly, they will be seen by anyone you mention in the text of the tweet:

And they’ll be the only person that sees it — until they reply to it publicly. At that point, Twitter will show the conversation to anyone who follows you both.

As far as I can tell, it’s absolutely impossible to discover a promoted tweet’s URL if you don’t run the campaign and don’t mention another user. Update: Alex Dunn points out that these tweets are discoverable through third parties like Topsy that have access to the full Twitter stream.

Want to have a tantrum on Twitter without the accompanying consequences? Go nuts.

It’s out there, but good luck finding it.

This seems like a particularly potent technique to use with fake social media predictions. I’m sure there are more creative uses too — let me know if you come up with one.

Keyword targeting

Twitter also offers the option of targeting people who’ve tweeted with keywords you enter, or exclude terms you don’t want. Pretty standard stuff.

But the fun comes with their Keyword Recommendations Tool, which taps the zeitgeist of the Twitter community to recommend “additional keywords we believe could be relevant to your audience.”

These matches can be, oh, a bit quirky. For example, on Twitter, if you enter in “idiot,” it recommends “asshole” and “deals.”

“Losers” suggests “Twilight.”

And “fucking” returns “iPhone.”

And you can click a link to get two full pages of recommended keywords, like these for “normcore”:

With “garbage,” we get Katy Perry, Coldplay, and Lana Del Rey:

Or “Gamergate”:

This could potentially be used for researching terms unique to individual subcultures or hashtags, or gauging audience sizes for particular terms on Twitter.

But mostly, it’s just stupid.

(Thanks to Neven Mrgan for the original inspiration for this post.)



Andy Baio
The Message

I make web stuff. @waxy, @xoxo, @upcomingorg, @playfic, @supercutorg, Kind of Bloop. Helped build @kickstarter. P.S. I love you.