“Sponsored Tweets” – The mere mention of the phrase sends chills down our collective spine and carries with it a stigma whose weight rivals that any other related to the platform, amongst it’s power users. We cherish the site as one of the last remaining media to hold out against advertising, so it’s no surprise that losing such freedom would have many of us reeling at the very thought of allowing those evil advertisers to invade our precious territory that we’ve protected for so long.

Yes, I know that’s a bizarre sentiment coming from a Social Media Manager/Strategist at an Ad Agency. And I’ll admit, maybe that’s changed my perspective a bit, as the concept no longer seems as scary to me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see brands flooding the medium with promotional content, via tweet or banner ad – trust me, I’d be the first to abandon twitter if that were to happen. However, I’m sure there’s a way that it can be implemented in a non-abusive, noninvasive, way.

I’m writing, not to advocate the practice because of anything I’ve done or plan to do, rather, with the intention of on opening up a conversation that, I hope, will de-stigmatize this sensitive issue, following 2 recent experiences with different forms of sponsorship/advertising creeping into tweets – each with it’s own spin. After all, despite our feelings about pervasive marketing, many times it’s what allows us to enjoy the content we love – whether on TV or online. As of now, Twitter’s business model, despite the new Advertising Friendly Terms Of Service, has consisted of nothing more than selling off bigger and bigger chunks of the company as they desperately try to identify a viable means of revenue generation – but we all know this already.

Anyway…

IZEA’s Sponsored Tweets.

Sponsored Tweets

A few weeks ago I signed up to participate in this controversial program. It’s not super new – most of you have probably heard about it already or even considered or experimented with it. Well, I pushed it off for a while, but eventually signed up & quickly forgot about it. Then, about 2 weeks ago, I received a DM informing me of a sponsored tweet opportunity. I clicked…and the tab sat open in my browser for about 3 days while I pondering the implication of participating, of disseminating a sponsored tweet to my followers (I still hate that word, not that it doesn’t provide a nice ego boost or reinforce the idea that Aerocles is some sort of deity or demiurgic figure worthy of worship…but come on…can’t we think up a better term?). Will my followers get upset? Will they feel deceived? Will they understand my experimentation or desire for that extra $3.50 (#recessionexcuse)? Most of all – Will anyone even notice?

I tweet like 100 times a day – would one 10am tweet with a link – looking pretty much like the rest of my posts – except with the necessary disclosure of the fact that this particular tweet is ‘sponsored’ – catch anyone’s eye as notably different?

I talked about it with a few people before hand – and their main concern seemed to be the issue of deception and disclosure. People follow me because they trust that I am feeding them useful information – vetted by me and marked with my stamp of approval. I get that. That’s pretty much the reason why I start following anyone else – they add value, whether through information or entertainment. So does disseminating a sponsored tweet devalue my presence? As long as it’s not often and clearly disclosed, I deemed it acceptable. So I did it. And guess what – several people clicked on the link. A few others asked me what a sponsored tweet was. And no one complained. No one said “Hey Dave, That was a bad Idea, I’m going to Unfollow you now.”

What I liked about the service is that when creating your profile you can outline the topics you’d be ok with, or interested in, tweeting about. Making the sponsored message custom tailored to the Twitterer’s (or Tweeter’s depending on the regional dialect of Twitterse that you speak) personal interests and preferences – thus keeping the content aligned with the rest of his/her tweetstream, to a degree. Not only that, but the participant has the ability to write the sponsored tweet his/herself, and decline opportunities if they disagree with the message, brand, or website they’d be promoting

That said, I’ve posted 2 sponsored tweets, raking in a grand total of $6 (though I’ve since upped by price to $5 a tweet). And I still haven’t received any negative comments for doing so.

Then there’s Last.fm’s Song Tweets. After I ran out of free plays on my Pandora station (WHY DID THEY DO THAT???) I crowdsurfed crowdsourced of course, asking my twitter friends what they use for online radio. I tried a few of the suggestions and found Last.fm to my liking. Once I had my station set up, I realized I could sync my station with twitter, in such a way that if I tag a song as “Loved,” it would tweet the name of the artist and song with a #lastfm hashtag and links to the both the song on last.fm’s site and on amazon.com, so people could purchase the individual track or album. In this approach, the sponsored tweet is entirely in the hands on the Twitterer and obviously in line with his/her taste in music and caters to people’s desires to share their preferences.

Last.fm Tweet

What They Have In Common:

They are both Opt-In

They are both ‘ads’ meant to direct followers to a website make a purchase – but reflect the specific Tweeter’s preferences and interests.

So….What do you think? Are these viable means of Advertising on Twitter? How Can Twitter capitalize? Should they be taking a percentage or commission of some sort? Should I be rewarded by Amazon on a Pay-Per-Click model for anyone who buys a song or album as a direct result of my tweet?

Aerocles’ Thought of the day:

New At-Work Strategy: Keeping My ‘Lost in Deep Thought” Look Plastered On My Face – It Stops People From Interrupting My Procrastination…

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Comments
  1. Call me a purist, but i don’t like this practice… i did see your Lastfm tweet, but missed the izea one… didn’t think much of it at the time, but overall looking back it did seem odd. Linking and suggesting the option to ‘buy’ to your followers doesn’t sit well with me. Sure we ask for RTs from each other and that could be looked at as simialr panhandling… but the idea of direct profit from individual social media dissemination seems odd.

    I’m not saying I’m against it, money has to be made and if you don’t snag the cash someone else will… question here is, what if everyone (or a large portion of folks here) would ‘opt in’? Over saturation may kill this beast before it fully gets of the ground… or, it can take Twitter down with it.

    I’m already super nervous for Facebook’s reach into the realm of Twitter, that the more they steal from Twitter the more i feel twitter should focus on it’s core, and to me that’s people sourcing for trending… throwing money (however little) into the mix will ruin the authenticity of ‘real time search’ that manifested into ‘people search,’ since it will become biased and hence useless… taking one of the last core differentiators of twitter away.

    Again, i don’t say don’t do it… I’m just worried for a mass sign on… with this economy nobody should be blaming anyone for trying to make another dollar.

    Good post, but I’m weary…

  2. I’m strongly opposed to sponsored tweets and blog posts. In fact, I shared a Twitter exchange with an attendee at today’s Izeafest, a gathering of people who are into sponsored twittering and blogging. I asked if anyone would be paid to live-tweet Izeafest. He responded that no one is paid to live-tweet during the program. Yet he is paid through Izea to Twitter and blog for companies and products. If he and others are paid for twittering elsewhere, why should I believe they’re not being paid to live-tweet this event?

    My point is, as Aerocles said, we’ve all earned our followers because we provides useful, funny or thought provoking information. Even with full disclosure, when we’re paid to twitter or blog, are we not subjecting our friends and followers to something they might not want? They follow us in good faith, and now we’re essentially spamming them with pay-per-click content. I believe this is abusive.

    I understand Twitter needs revenue, as do the individuals who use the service and host personal blogs. But I will unfollow anyone who I believe is taking advantage of me or others by receiving compensation for their tweets. I share news, often coming from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Should I share in the monies they receive from online advertising? No. Let’s keep it honest.

  3. Burns Patterson says:

    Hmm – thoughtful post. For myself, I’ve “always” (in Twitter time) felt it’s inevitable that advertising would work its way into Twitter more directly, and I haven’t been too worked up about it. So, I was surprised at my own reaction recently – not even to a sponsored ad – but to an individual whom I follow suddenly working in a bunch of contests and prize giveaways to their Tweets. It did seem to cheapen the individual’s “brand” in my mind. Maybe it’s a matter of partly of volume, as you say. If the stream starts to feel choked with ads, it will feel like a very different experience.

    On balance, I’ll stick with my first instinct. I don’t expect to find totally “ad-free” environemnts on this scale in other parts of my life, given the country we live in, and I take them (#brainwashed?) as a necessary funding source that will help a service offer me value in other ways.

    Maybe it’s partly becasue I joined the Twitter experience later than the early-adopters, and numerous brands we’re already making hay, but it seemed a natural part of the Twitter eco-system.

    Special “Twitter-only” hotel rates, airline offers and other promotions have been part of the Twitter experience for as long as I’ve been participating, and for whatever reason, those haven’t bothered me (though I appreciated brands and individuals behind the brands who had the good grace, or good instincts, to go easy on the gas pedal with promotions and mix in items of human interest).

    I’m in PR btw, in full disclosure, so perhaps pre-disposed as you say too be more ad or promotionally tolerant. I was intreigued when speaking with a media buyer recently who described a “backdoor” method that advertisers are looking ad sponsoreed ads on Twitter, and that’s going out to the legions of bloggers who accept sponsored content, and who have portions of the blog automatically linked to their Twitter feed.

  4. I can only really speak for myself on this topic, I think. As someone who is still pretty new to Twitter and the profession in general, I would be hesitant to Tweet something sponsored unless it was something I personally endorsed.

    I’m sure anyone following me suspects I’m sponsored by Headbobble.com because I can’t stop Tweeting about the awesome custom bobbleheads I got. But I legitimately loved their work and how well they treated me throughout the process, so I feel OK giving them some love.

    I would feel as though I were being dishonest with my followers if I Tweeted about something I couldn’t back up. I love to Tweet about places I eat, things I buy or even things I dislike. I would just feel weird, I guess, about Tweeting something I had no personal experience with. Being paid to Tweet something (even if I happened to think it was cool and something followers would like) would just feel icky to me.

    As someone who has a lot more followers (and a lot more experience), I’m really glad that you wrote about this. I really like that you emphasize your transparency, you’re not trying to hide the fact that you’re posting sponsored Tweets. Because I am new and you’re someone I look to for guidance, I would feel misled if you didn’t honestly disclose when your Tweets were paid for.

  5. Chuck T says:

    Your two stories of sponsored Tweets are very interesting, but what Last.fm has that spontwts lacks is a direct benefit to both you and the reader.

    Twitter is about telling people what you’re doing, and if you’re listening to a particular song, then that COULD be relevant information to your audience. It says something about you, it adds color. The fact that it enables you to continue listening to “free” music is a benefit to you.

    Just putting out a tweet that HAPPENS to link back to something else does nothing other than get you money. That’s very one sided.

    All that said, any marketer who wants to engage on Twitter should do so by planning and having something to say that is more than just “buy this!” If you can’t be relevant to your readers then you need to question why you’re there.

  6. Katie says:

    I go back and forth on this issue. I’ve seen sponsored tweets from my friends on Twitter and I don’t mind them, but if a larger group of people started posting sponsored tweets I can see myself easily getting annoyed and unfollowing them to clean up my stream.

    The #lastfm tweet is a bit different, but then again I do blog about music and social media, so I am bias. To those that object to “but it here” for the amazon link, would you feel any different if it said “buy it on iTunes” or “buy from the artist directly here”?? I see the music tweet as less intrusive than the sponsored tweets, but the same principle applies. If everyone starts tweeting about what they’re listening to on #lastfm, I’d likely get annoyed. Same principle with blip.fm, etc. though those aren’t sponsored nor do they contain a link to buy the song, just to go and listen.

    I think that it’s good to see experiments happening. Twitter is certainly a unique beast to tackle for many companies, and it’s refreshing to see companies and users taking some moderate ‘risks’ to try new products and services out. I learn by doing and I think so far, the Twitter community has been good at self-policing.

  7. @mikeschaffer says:

    I’m super short on time, but wanted to chime in here!

    Controversial topic, for sure. Not going to lie…an extra $3-5 per day isn’t too shabby. I would take it on a case-by-case situation for me, though. I would want full control over the message, to ensure it’s something I actually do support.

    While my network isn’t as large as, say, the New York Times’, I still value that people choose to follow me and I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that trust.

  8. I too am pressed for time but wanted to weigh in on a great post and great topic.

    I think, as most things in life, a little advertising within tweets can be OK, too much ruins it for everybody.

    I have no problem with the occasional Tweep using an occassional tweet (clearly labeled) to share info with me that I might find interesting.

    But the minute the volume is heavy (and/or loud) or too many people start sending sponsored tweets this I’ll either unfollow them or move to another platform.

    There are better ways to spread advertising messages in Social Media. And while sponsored tweets are not “sneaky” if they are labeled they are getting dangerously close to the “let’s see if we can get away with it” category of somewhat-unlikable practices.

    In any case, a great post on an important subject. Thanks.

  9. Deirdre says:

    This was a really good post because it got me thinking about what I want from Twitter and my expectations. I think it would have been easier to accept sponsored tweets if the platform started out with this type of advertising from the onset. I guess it all depends on how much you rely on Twitter…whether it’s not very often or if you’re like me, all day, every day. I expect to see ads on blogs and it doesn’t bother me that many fellow bloggers will have their video blogs sponsored by a company. I’m not sure how I will feel if all of my trusted and relied upon sources suddenly start participating in sponsored tweets. Would I filter them out as noise and perhaps they just stay in my “All Friends” column and not on on the feeds that I watch all day? On the other hand, is this just something that we all need to accept and get used to if we want Twitter to stick around? I’m sure there are ways to make it work so that if you find it annoying you can lessen the noise. I guess I’m not sure yet… still on the fence about this one. It’s was great to hear your perspective and appreciate you sharing your thoughts!

  10. Sophie says:

    Personally, I hate seeing those paid tweets. I won’t follow people who do that. The Last.fm tweets don’t seem like the same thing at all. I don’t use the “loved” linkup, mainly because I’d hate to feel too spammy, but I use Tweekly. It sends out a hashtagged tweet from my account once a week announcing my top 3 artists for that week. It’s just telling people “This is what I’ve been listening to.” The most it’ll ever net me is a new Last.fm friend, which is swell but not monetary. It’s weird, I have linked to goods for sale, pointed to stores and brands I like, even explicitly said people should give them a go (often these are small businesses like Etsy shops or artists). I’m guilty of the occasional contest retweet too. But actually being paid to do that doesn’t sit well with me at all.

    A few months back I was involved in a kind of performance experiment on Twitter (and leaking over to other social media), and one of the projects (Co-Modify)was a fake sponsorship. Everyone in the group (@platea) picked one company they would pretend to be sponsored by for a week. We didn’t have to use every tweet for this, we could do it as much or as little as we liked, and could refer to the brand however we liked. Part of the aim was to see how people reacted to this, would they even notice considering how often brands get mentioned just in everyday conversation? I didn’t experience any big blowback, but I purposefully tried to keep mine under the radar while others were more upfront about being “sponsored”. Anyway, the Platea blog has several posts about how the project went overall and a better explanation of the experiment than mine here. And no, I didn’t get paid for that plug. ;)

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