Paid status updates are nothing new on Twitter. Marketers have been on the site nearly since the beginning, and there’s no telling how many millions of active user accounts might actually be spammers in disguise.
There’s a new player in the paid posting space, however, and its name is PaidPerTweet.com.
The PaidPerTweet model is very simple. Users sign up to join the PPT directory, writing a short bio about themselves and listing their PPT rate (i.e. $1/tweet). Advertisers can click to “hire” these users to tweet about their brand, but must register with the site to contact them. The service is nothing new. There are at least 3 others operating publicly, and it’s not difficult to find stories from Twitter users bragging about how much they’ve made to tweet about everything from Blockbuster to hair products.
The existence of the service raises important questions about whether social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter should impose standards and guidelines governing paid status updates. Do non-disclosed paid status updates really compromise the integrity of a social network? Should social media users be forced to distinguish paid updates from nonpaid updates?
Policing Brand Ambassadors
The commingling of paid and non-paid content is nothing new. Print magazines have long clearly marked paid content as an “advertisement,” “advertorial” or “sponsored content”, sliding it in right alongside non-paid articles. Radio stations have for decades promoted spots that are intercut seamlessly with live on-air chatter, blurring the lines between programming and advertisement. For sophisticated media consumers, however, it’s still relatively easy to spot a promotion in traditional media.
Last week, the NewYorkTimes ran a piece on Mommy Bloggers and the ethics surrounding product endorsement. The article cites advocacy groups concerned about blogging, and to a lesser extent, micro-blogging. Paid status updates are even more problematic, both for site users and also for social media networks to police. If a social media user begins spouting the virtues of the latest iPhone, or little-known TV show, who’s to say that the user isn’t merely an enthusiastic brand ambassador?
Dealing with this issue is considerably easier in Facebook, where networks will naturally self-police. Many Facebook users in the prime growth areas (35-50 years olds) favor semi-private networks with a limited number of friends and family. In these networks, strangers are looked upon with suspicion, greatly lowering the chance of being bombarded by paid status updates. However, should someone in that user’s network begin shamelessly plugging a slew of products over and over again, to the point of annoyance, that person will surely find himself “unfriended” or hidden from view in short order. Likewise, a Group administrator can easily cut a user who barrages the Group’s message thread with sales pitches.
Twitter is another matter entirely, where most Twitter users maintain public profiles and invite strangers to follow their status updates. Many already put up with a high level of unwanted contact and deal with spammy false personas on a regular basis. PPT introduces yet another layer of potentially problematic complexity. Some well-known pundits are calling for guidelines from the social media sites themselves, including social media transparency advocate Brian Solis.
Brand Ambassador Campaigns and Ethicacy
These issues pose several important questions for companies that are integrating brand ambassadors into their marketing strategy.
Can real customers be counted on as potent brand ambassadors in social media? Is a real customer’s credibility compromised if they receive payment?
Is the practice of paying non-customers to perform a PPT campaign any less ethical than the widely accepted practice of hiring an actor to play a customer in a TV commercial?
We look forward to continuing the conversation as more consumer advocacy groups, companies and brand ambassadors weigh in.