My Twitter account was recently suspended. It was an accidental move apparently caused by an attempt to control spam, and it was rectified within 24 hours or so. But for a short time, I was one of hundreds of legitimate users left out in the cold, vainly posting messages asking assistance. As one fellow complainer posted to the Twitter help desk, “You’re messing with my reputation.”
My thoughts exactly. That’s why I was interested to read about Izea‘s plan to unveil a new platform that enables Twitter users to post updates that are openly sponsored by brands and products. Izea, of course, is the company that brought us sponsored blog posts. Those have already generated controversy and conversation (including by me.) Just today, the New York Times reported that the FTC may soon require online media to comply with disclosure rules under its truth-in-advertising guidelines. But, compared to blogs, personal updates like Facebook status and Twitter posts are an even grayer area. Are micro-updates actually monetizable?
Izea thinks so. And though it says the platform is intended for “grassroots” bloggers who have only a few hundred readers, I find it hard to imagine it would be limited to those with small followings. But, in fairness, two things might separate it from the sketchy image generated by other sponsored coversation companies like Magpie. First, Izea requires full disclosure of the sponsored tweet through use of a #spon hashtag. Second, it will deal directly with advertisers rather than through affiliate companies that tend to mask the commercial relationship.
Sponsored tweeting strikes most Twitter users as a terrible idea. After all, there’s already too much spamming, multilevel and affiliate marketing, and those annoying attempts to game the Twitter system by making certain terms more searchable. Most importantly, social media tools like Twitter are supposed to be about an authentic conversation.
But, as I’ve posted, Twitter hasn’t really achieved that two-way exchange status, and its follower model lends itself to different forms of experimentation, particularly among those with legitimately large followings. It’ll be interesting to see if any celebrities or other power users will sign onto a pay-per-tweet kind of arrangement. It’s hard to imagine Shaquille O’Neal or Ashton Kutcher as “twitter pimps.” Yet, we don’t object to celebrity endorsements in other media. Is there really a difference between Kutcher appearing in a clever Coolpix ad and @aplusk tweeting about it on behalf of Canon?
For all the fuss, I’m choosing to wait and see how the sponsored tweeting turns out. It’s clear that traditional advertising must reinvent itself, and who knows – those who use originality and humor just might be part of a cool new wave in creative content.
But, the most interesting thing about this experimental monetization model is that it makes money for all involved – the platform, the Twitter user, and presumably the sponsor. Everyone, that is, except Twitter.