WARNING: Possibly Controversial Post About Sponsored Tweets

This post has nothing to do with travel, but everything to do with blogging – and this here’s my blog, so what better place to talk about it? Mashable, a brilliant site that talks about many things that confuse me because I am an Internet dilettante, recently weighed in on the idea of sponsored tweets. It seems a company has figured out a way to make this work.

This company is willing to pay people to post, in effect, ads. Some things to keep in mind:

  • The tweeter can write the ad in their own words.
  • The tweet will have disclosure hashtags (Mom, that’s “#” plus a keyword) that clearly label it as an ad.
  • Once contacted about posting, the tweeter has the choice to decline posting that ad.

I filled out the form on their site, because I was curious how much I’d earn if I were to tweet an ad. Turns out it’s a whopping $2.61, plus $0.15 every time someone clicks on the link I presumably include in the tweet. (I can adjust that rate as I wish.)

The Internet firestorm of drama and indignation sponsored tweets have ignited is almost laughable, but upon further reflection is probably valid. The great majority of people say they will unceremoniously “unfollow” people who post sponsored tweets, as they consider it to be spam. Others think it spells the end of Twitter as we know it, as it should be a place free of monetization – a true social media community that is about the exchange of ideas, not sales.

And, to a certain extent I agree. Click on any trending topic in Twitter; among the heartfelt posts about Michael Jackson’s death, the Iran elections and the desire to see the Jonas Brothers perform in Australia, there are spammy ads for Cialis and hot babes who want to talk to YOU. It’s annoying and just plain feels dirty.

I also agree with those who say that it tarnishes the reputation of those who post the sponsored tweets. It would seem to be the equivalent of a paying journalists to write favorable reviews. There are people on my Twitter feed who are serious travel journalists, whose presence implies the acceptance of their not unsubstantial employers. I do not think these people should post sponsored tweets, and given the respect they so clearly have for their profession I’d be surprised if they did.

But I have a few thoughts in support of sponsored tweets, which I’d like to share:

  1. For every credentialed journalist on Twitter, there are hundreds of thousands of regular, everyday people who use Twitter for other purposes. While they wouldn’t get the big bucks per sponsored tweet – some users with large followings can get up to $150 per post – they might make some lunch money, and I think that’s OK.
  2. Whether it’s their own blogs, websites that interest them or products and services they love, people promote things all the time on Twitter. It could be argued that everyone who waxes poetic about their new iPhones in 140 characters is promoting Apple. People who acknowledge how much Twitter has made their lives richer are promoting Twitter. Users ask their followers to “retweet,” Digg, StumbleUpon or otherwise promote blog posts all the time. I’ve written the headline to this post in a way that I hope will make people want to click on the link that accompanies it when I post it on Twitter – in effect promoting myself. I receive press releases all the time from companies that hope I’ll pick up the story. If I’m not enthused, I delete it. If I think it’s interesting and something my readers would enjoy, I run with it. Newspapers do this all the time. If a hotel I’ve always wanted to stay at contacted me and offered me $2.61 to say what I would have said for free anyway, especially since I have the right to refuse, what’s the harm? I’m doing it under my own name. I would never do it, for example, for the blogs I am paid to write for. In fact, I’ve spent the last three months debating whether or not to write a glowing review of Skype for one such blog, fearing it might tarnish the reputation of that blog’s brand – and Skype has no idea I even exist, let alone contacted me about writing it.
  3. I can’t see taking the time to be offended by a sponsored tweet by someone on my list of 345 people I currently follow. Now, that 345 is a relatively small number, considering almost 1,800 people follow me. Many people I know have no trouble following hundreds more, but even with my 345 I could easily do nothing all day but read my Twitter feed. As it is, I and many others I’ve spoken to merely skim the feed for our favorites, and I’ve limited my Twitter time to only about 15-20 minutes per day.

That means I’m missing literally thousands of tweets per day, and passing over dozens every time I log on to check my feed. If someone were to post a sponsored tweet, I could easily miss it – and if I did see one, it would take a fraction of a second to skip over it if it did not interest me, just as I do with other tweets that do not interest me.

With the link and the hash tags, I can’t imagine my personalized input into a sponsored tweet would be more than a few words at most. The tweet would reach less than 1,800 people total, the majority of whom would never see it because of timing and the rest would simply ignore. And I write an average of 11.3 tweets per day, which means I’d be posting at least 10 other solid, original, thoughtful tweets my followers have come to enjoy.

I think it all comes down to context. I’ve chosen to follow the people I do because I have found them to be interesting, honest, sincere people who share my passion for travel. I’d like to believe they would say the same about me. If I saw one of my twits (ha!) had posted a sponsored tweet, it would not make me suddenly disrespect them or mistrust the other quality tweets they post throughout the day. I’ve seen many more egregious, spammy offenses on Twitter in the name of self-promotion, Lord knows.

These companies are not asking to take over your Twitter account. They’re not asking you to go on and on about their products or services. They’re asking to rent a small space for a fleeting moment in time, and could give a fig what you do with Twitter for the remaining 23.59 hours of your day. I don’t think that’s so bad.

What say you?


11 thoughts on “WARNING: Possibly Controversial Post About Sponsored Tweets

  1. Definitely an interesting topic. I have a lot of thoughts on them, so I should probably put it into a post like you so I can better organize them.

    I think one of the biggest differences, though, between a Pay-per-Tweet and a “fangirl” tweet ie: Apple/iPhone is the spontaneity and context – when you tweet about how much you love the iPhone it’s because in that moment you decide that’s the best use of your communication tools and your relationships – to express your love for that. You will probably also tweet “I Hate apple” when/if necessary.

    I do think it would affect how I view the Tweets from other people and the trust we have – in blogs there are often methods to enjoy content ad-free (like RSS) but the most important part is the ad is NOT the CONTENT or primary reason I go to the site – it’s in addition to it. On Twitter, your Tweets ARE your content, and though a hashtag is a good way for disclosure, it’s impossible to filter out these tweets.

    I think, if someone really wants to be paid by someone to promote their products or links, why not spend the time to develop real relationships with these brands/bloggers so you can promote something you already have in your heart, and be paid for it, whether writing content/being an affiliate/doing social media work for them? That way you can be rewarded for something you’re already passionate about…and people will know that the sentiment is genuine and the context is understandable.

    But I’m constantly re-evaluating this….

  2. Sara,

    My thought is that since it’s become routine for companies to pay people to write about their products in their blogs, how is paying people to tweet about the same thing any different?

    The bottom line is that it takes a lot of time and effort to build up a readership whether in your blog or on twitter and the vast majority of the people who look forward to your blog entries or tweets do so for free.

    So, what’s wrong with that writer getting rewarded and compensated for their time and effort?

    This is a way to do so.

    And, whether you realize it or not if you are reading any popular blog there is a 99 percent chance that the writer has at one point or another been paid to either write about something in that blog or been paid to insert anchor links in the blog.

    It’s just a fact of life – and if people don’t find a way to get paid eventually they’ll stop offering high quality content in their blogs or tweets, because people have bills to pay.

  3. @Cal You bring up an important point…

    Disclosure is NOT optional, in my opinion – whether you’re talking Tweets or posts – I’d be surprised about the 99% of bloggers that have been paid to or insert links without disclosing. It’s a bad practice and something I definitely don’t support. Go ahead, get paid for what you do, but tell your readers, too, so that they know it’s not an unbiased representation. Most ads on websites are labelled as such: ads, and are not considered endorsements (which is what pay-for-post and tweets really are). I think even freebies (free books, etc.) should be disclosed.

    I agree people have bills to pay but I think it can always been done tastefully and respectfully with your readers – trust is a fragile relationship.

  4. I disagree with Cal’s statistic as well.

    But the sponsored tweet company I mentioned in the post clearly says that all tweets will have instant disclosure.

  5. I guess a lot of it depends on the context of the blog. On my blog I make it very clear that I’m a total writing whore, so if anyone ever did offer me cash to endorse something I don’t think any of my readers would care. That said, if anyone ever wanted to pay me money to pitch their products (hint, hint to any marketing agencies out there) I’d probably do so in a playful way to let people be in on the joke. Writing in the voice of my cat for the post, might be an interesting way to do it.

    I’ve been involved in marketing enough where I can almost always tell when someone has been paid for content.

    On the bigger sites you might gawk at or where biblical vixens post content, for example, it’s much harder to tell when they’ve gotten consideration for their content. But, if you pay attention you’ll notice over time that certain television shows get talked about a good deal as do certain movies and such… once you start looking for it, you’ll notice it.

  6. Miss E – I tried to qualify that as the most popular blogs. I don’t think a lot of LJs are getting money for their stuff – but I dare you to look at any Nick Denton site on a regular basis and tell me they ain’t getting paid by AMC, J.J. Abrams, 20th Century Fox, Grey Goose etc….

    A couple months ago they were doing preview posts, liveblogging posts and recap posts on every single episode of Lost.

    Drudge freely admits he gets paid for stuff, I can tell when I read Slate when they’ve gotten paid for a post and don’t me started on CosmoBlog, ElleBlog, Tucker Max or any of the ridiculously popular blogs posted by Maxim, Playboy, Details, etc…

  7. This is an interesting debate, and one in which I, too, have mixed feelings. Frankly, I choose not to even run ads on my blog because if I use any of the easy ad generators, I have no choice in content. If, however, a product which I genuinely appreciate and adore — like Apple (for example) — offered to place advertising on my site and pay me for it, I would jump at the chance. And while I do accept freebies on occasion, I am very clear with my readers that I do, and I am upfront with those offering a freebie that it absolutely does not mean that I will like said freebie and endorse it.

    But when you are being paid to tweet or to blog about something, that choice no longer exists. You’ve surrendered your power as a blogger to a PR agency who is in the business of molding and shaping public opinion. And personally, I have no desire to be someone else’s tool.

    Will I stop tweeting because of this? No. I probably won’t even unfollow people who do because, like you, I spend pretty limited time on Twitter as it is, and the chances of me catching someone tweeting a commercial at me are fairly slim. But it does give me pause… the media has always exercised choice when it comes to advertising to one degree or another. When we give up that choice and our own voices in the process, do we also give up some of our integrity? I am inclined to say, “yes.”

  8. Pingback: Twitted by AKNickerson

  9. I’m so fine with whatever you want to send me. My thinking is that it is your experiences, thoughts and writing that put this group of 1800 together, you should be able to capitalize (“rent” it out, as you say) on it.

    By the way, I love my iPhone, it is a nursing mother’s best friend – do think apple would be into an ad campaign about that? :). Love you sweets.

  10. I have a feeling that this system will be self-selecting anyway, as long as the ad is signalled and the tweeter has the choice (once they’ve signed up) to refuse. If someone I’m following suddenly bombards me with ads all day long, then I’ll stop following them, in the same way as I bounce right off blogs and websites that make it difficult to read the content because they’re swimming with ads.

    If they send me the odd, well-chosen link, well I’d be interested in having a closer look.

    One question – in relation to the ‘I hate apple’ mentioned above – if you HAVE agreed to tweet an ad, do you still have the freedom to criticise the product afterwards if necessary?

    At least this system sounds as though it is going to be upfront – unlike a lot of affiliate links or ‘traditional, serious journalism.’ I was horrified when my friend in PR pointed out how many articles her company had written for the mainstream newspapers…..with no clue to the reader that that was the case.

    Give it a go, I say. It’s not that awful to pay writers for their work 😉

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