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When everyone’s a broadcaster, is everyone an advertiser?

28th January 10

Now social media has made it possible for everyone to become a broadcaster, is it inevitable that everyone becomes an advertiser?

In the early weeks of 2010, there’s already been considerable debate (and indignation) around brands, businesses and even bands incentivising users for Tweets. Twincentivisng, if you like (and I must admit I can’t resist a pun).

Is everyone an advertiser? Image by Mike Cogh, Flickr, under a creative commons license

Is everyone an advertiser? Image by Mike Cogh, Flickr, under a creative commons license

Should brands pay for tweets? Should twitterers take the cash or resist? Is there a sustainable paid for media model here or a fundamentally misguided reaction to the rise of social media? Is pay-per-tweet the end of the Twitterverse as we know it?

In many ways this is an inevitable response to a number of factors:

  • The extraordinary rise and equally extraordinary media profile of Twitter
  • The increased premium placed on peer to peer recommendations
  • The collapse of on-line display advertising and the rise of SEO
  • The socialisation of search

Any and all of these factors suggest a pressing need for brands to find a way to harness the power of social media and for media agencies to find a way to monetise it. Viewed from one perspective, the asymmetric nature of Twitter relationships make it particularly ripe for the adoption of a “broadcast” model.  1 in 5 tweets already mentions a brand so monetisation of these mentions seems, from that perspective, to make eminent sense.

So it’s inevitable that  businesses will experiment with a range of commercial models in this space from pay-per-tweet to pay-per-click to promotional access for tweets. I don’t personally feel huge moral indignation (perhaps it’s the ad-girl in me..). Brands will experiment with these businesses. If we don’t experiment we won’t learn. Some initiatives will be more successful than others and the ones that have a measure of success will probably involve some combination of:

  • Transparency: Are the brand and the user open about their commercial relationship?  Disclosure policies are becoming an increasingly important aspect of the pay-per-tweet business
  • Authenticity: Does it sound like the user is talking? Is it something they would say or a product they would endorse?  (Quite a challenge with auto-tweets and a point in favour of those services allowing users to generate their own copy)
  • Complicity: Does the brand feel like they understand the platform and its users? Does it feel like a tech-savvy brand talking to tech-savvy individuals? Early FourSquare drinks/dinner promotions for example tapped into users’ mania for checking in and racking up points and so, although fairly basic, felt like they “got” it.  Playing with the currency of the Platform-the mayorship-also created that sense of complicity and playfulness. Likewise, the Pearl Jam tweet-for-download mechanic felt like a way of engaging and rewarding fans rather than anything more cynical.
Four Square promotions

Four Square promotions

Yet while I don’t feel outraged or betrayed, I do feel a little disappointed and a lot sceptical.

The ease with which we can identify influencers and super-users is a hugely welcome benefit of the social web. Once upon a time, identifying opinion formers was something of a dark art (usually involving lurking in hipster bars). Now there are any number of algorithms designed to map patterns of influence, identify lovers and loathers of brands and quantify their sway.  If we’re feeling unloved, we can even quantify our own Twinfluence.

But if identifying the influencers has become a science, influencing and activating the influencers remains an art. There is a huge opportunity in marrying the skills of PR experts and cultural mavens with hardcore data analytics to deliver robust, strategic, quantifiable (and cool) peer to peer programmes.  Yet pay-per-tweet feels like a fairly blunt instrument.

Treating users as media spaces to be bought and sold seems to me to impose an old world model on a very new medium-and as we are constantly reminded, the old model is broken. The age of interruption is over. Where it still scores is when we need serious scale (10s of millions of eyeballs), seriously quickly. But to impose an interruption model on Twitter seems to offer the worst of all possible worlds-interruption without scale.

So as business model, paid-for Tweets seems fraught with problems. But it does arise from a set of very genuine problems and opportunities. So what more exciting uses could we make of these opportunities?

Co-creation: If we want smart, engaged and opinionated people talking about what we’re up to, why not involve them early? We are Social’s “The Marmarati” work for Marmite is a great example of how bringing super-users into the development process pays dividends. Using a brand’s super users as its consultants, collaborators and Beta-testers drives genuine excitement and dialogue.

Social gaming: I’m pretty sure no money changed hands, but boy did Spymaster pop up in my Twitterfeed a lot at one point. Likewise FourSquare. Imagine if either one of these properties-or the juggernaut that is Farmville- had been branded. A surefire way to rise through the social search rankings in an organic and entertaining way.

Surprise and delight: Now we can identify who’s talking about our brands most and quantify their sentiment surely there is much greater opportunity for pro-active, real world customer service? Take the recent Eurostar PR traumas. Or any of the many airlines experiencing delays or cancellations in the poor weather. It’s relatively easy to spot the most vocal and influential users of social media and to see when they’re experiencing peak moments of frustration. So upgrade them. Give them free lounge access. Give them a cupcake (please). I guarantee they’ll tweet about it-we all love surprises.

The Marmarati campaign

The Marmarati campaign

Simple social sign up should become a no-brainer and of course, if we want to get people talking the fundamental imperative remains to do something interesting. But what else could we do with the data now at our disposal, with the ability to spot influencers, quantify sentiment and micro-target? Am I missing something and is pay-per-tweet the wave of the future? Or are there more interesting futures out there?

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