Paying for Tweets, Ethics, and PR

July 23, 2009

IZEA (http://izea.com/) is a social marketing firm whose activities include “sponsored conversations.”  Research indicates that sponsored conversations does produce positive results.  You can learn more about sponsored conversations at http://izea.com/social-media-marketing/sponsored-conversations/. At heart, a sponsored conversation is paying a blogger to write about an organization, product, or service.  IZEA plans to broaden their approach by including people who Twitter, a small step from blogs to micro-blogsJ.   Here is section from a online story about it:

“Orlando Sentinel) An Orlando company’s plans could change the face of Twitter. Later this month, a marketing firm called IZEA will launch “Sponsored Tweets,” a network connecting advertisers with Twitter users who want to get paid to post, or “tweet.” Already, Internet reports of the plan are generating heat from critics, who contend it will taint Twitter by encouraging users to make money off their followers. And the launch comes just as the Federal Trade Commission is looking to crack down on bloggers who give a positive review to a product or service without disclosing that the company is paying them to do so, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Ted Murphy, CEO of IZEA, says sponsored tweeting is already happening. “If you look at the amount of self-promotion, company promotion and advertising promotion that is going on Twitter, it’s ridiculous,” Murphy said. “The only thing that we are trying to do is make it more … measurable for the advertisers, and enforce disclosure in a uniform manner,” he adds, reports Sentinel writer Etan Horowitz.

Here’s how “Sponsored Tweets” will work: After a Twitter user signs up, he or she will be matched with advertisers that want to pay for tweets. Users with large followings, which likely will include celebrities, would be paid more than people with a smaller audience. Anyone who sends out sponsored tweets will be required to disclose which tweets they’re being paid for.

Even with disclosure, Sean Corcoran, an analyst with Forrester Research, said he would urge companies to stay away from Sponsored Tweets. He notes there isn’t yet agreement on the best ways for companies to pay for blog posts, a practice largely pioneered by IZEA.

“Marketers should tread lightly with sponsored conversations in general, and if they are going to do them, I’m advising people to figure it out on blogs first before they jump to Twitter,” said Corcoran, whose firm counsels other companies on how to use social media.

Plus, with Twitter messages being limited to 140 characters, including disclosure is difficult, he said, and new users may not understand it. A better option is for companies to use Twitter to promote their brand and interact with consumers, Corcoran said.” http://bulldogreporter.com/ME2/Audiences/dirmod.asp?sid=2436B6EB9392483ABB0A373E8B823A24&nm=&type=Publishing&mod=Publications%3A%3AArticle&mid=8F3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&AudID=213D92F8BE0D4A1BB62EB3DF18FCCC68&tier=4&id=E0EBD76DF26A4C649715AC1E9F1569B6

The issue of paying online message creators is not new.  The launch of Vista involved giving influential bloggers free Acer laptops worth over $1,000.  Many did not disclose the perk in their comments.  It also relates to VNRs being used without attribution on local television stations.  The pivotal aspect in these scenarios is knowing the true source of the message so that the source’s biases can be considered when evaluating the information.  The issue is about to spread to Twitter in a structured way.

Questions to Condsider:

1. Should any organization pay for blogs or tweets?

2. Is there any real difference between paying for blog entries and paying for Tweets?

3. If bloggers and tweeters are “citizen journalists,” shouldn’t they have similar codes of ethics when comes to being paid for content?

4. What are some potential abuses of and ethical issues for paying for blogs and Tweets?

5. Who will have responsibility for disclosing a conversation is “sponsored?”

6. Should companies like IZEA publicly post their paid bloggers and Tweeters?

7. Should posts for “sponsored conversations” carry an identifying mark such as a logo to warn readers?

8. How might “sponsored conversations” be used to promote frontgroups?

9. How can transparency help in this debate?

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