Tweets for sale – an inevitable development?

While on Twitter yesterday, my feed contained a tweet written by a recruitment company, which had been retweeted by one of my followers. The tweet said something along the lines of ‘For £99 you can advertise via one of our tweets and reach 2000 followers.’ First off, I think £99 is a bit steep for a company with only 2000 followers. If direct mail stats are anything to go by, only 1% of readers will pick up on the advert, and how many of that 1% will the ad actually apply to? 2000 suddenly doesn’t seem like such a high number for a company advertising tweets for sale. Secondly, what are they doing?!

Twitter has inevitably developed since its birth to open itself up to more profit with promoted trending topics. I don’t blame them for this. Every site on the same user scale contains adverts with huge profit margins, and this is a far less invasive way of reaching consumers than adverts between every tweet.

Companies also reach their consumers by going through twitter’s influential users directly. Take Stephen Fry, the original celebrity tweeter, for example. Presumably inundated with requests to RT an individual or organisation for a good cause, Stephen occasionally embraces goodwill and adheres to such requests. The original tweeter instantly gains tens of thousands of new followers, purely because Stephen Fry mentioned them. I think it’s safe to say this does wonders for the cause they are tweeting about too.

Somewhere between companies contacting influential Twitter users and blatant promotion however, is a blurry line. Many celebrities who have contracts with big-name brands will go a step further to promote the products they’re endorsing by throwing out a tweet here and there too. Some celebrities are rumoured to be paid around £10 000 for every tweet of this nature they write, but is this turning Twitter into something new?

It doesn’t take long on Twitter to find some regular Joe Bloggs comparing the social media site to Facebook, some say, its rival. I’ve never thought of the two as rivals because they offer such different services. People rarely use one or the other. Facebook has been around longer than Twitter and undergone more changes than, well, pretty much any site out there. The way we, and companies with a product or service to promote use Facebook has changed immensely since it began, with consumer material being more dominant in news feeds than ever before.

With Twitter catching up in net-time experience, it was soon to be asked how we would see the site develop in terms of financial opportunities, but should we expect the blatant turn to advertising that we have on Facebook?

Websites offering ‘fun’ tools which tell us how much our Twitter accounts are worth if we were to sell them to companies began as a light-hearted topic of discussion between users, and appeared much like any other Foursquare or GetGlue update in feeds. It would be naive to think that Twitter would remain the same in terms of financial marketing forever, but the selling of tweets for advertising runs the risk of turning the site into a spam-filled universe in a rapid timescale. If sold tweets became the norm and we saw just as many of them as ‘normal tweets’, it is fair to say the user experience would change dramatically.

Users would be free to block offending ads from their feed, but how would we know what was continual spam and what was an account allowing an occasional paid-for tweet? Facebook users seem to not only have resisted the opportunity to be turned away from the site since the expansion of advertising, but embraced it. Many users will happily post a link (taking up half the screen) to a company’s page, purely because they have been asked to, or to stand a chance of winning an endorsed product. This isn’t a million miles off charging people to tweet, or paying celebrities to tweet. It is purely companies with influence asking their consumers to help them, which they do.

This is closely linked to something I feel much stronger about – using my personal Facebook and Twitter account for promotional use. I’ve been asked to tweet, ‘like’ Facebook pages and update my status to include a link to something on several occasions, by several people, including my own employer in the past. It is something I refuse to do. If work and social media do have to mix, I would set up an account specifically for this use, and not inundate my friends and contacts, who I enjoy regular conversation with, with promotional spam. Many of my friends don’t know the details of my work, and if they did, I doubt they would care enough to help me with it by passing on further spam.

The debate surrounding employers’ choices to employ someone based on the content of their Facebook page, and the ratio of drunken photos to sober ones, is one still being debated. Some employers (dependant on industry) feel this has a low importance, but why run the risk of putting a promotional link next to photos of a vodka-fuelled night out on someone’s profile? These choices have to be considered in terms of the reputation of the company being promoted, and if the promoter’s online content influences this we are likely to see a tamed-down version of the people we know in order to make room for suitable promotional environments, eventually creating an online world lacking in freedom of expression, and one which will ultimately take the social out of social media.

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