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Gini Dietrich

Is Paying People to Tweet About Your Brand Going Too Far?

By: Gini Dietrich | April 21, 2009 | 
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My dear friend @SarahRobinson sent me an article today via direct message. I knew there was a reason she wanted me to read it, but I didn’t fully understand until I got 3/4 of the way through reading it.

Let me back up. The Ad Age article, “Land Rover Taps Twitter As Campaign Cornerstone” is a pretty interesting read. It talks about how they seeded hashtags (words used in tweets that make it easier to follow an ongoing conversation via online searches) “on billboards, taxi TVs, and other out-of-home venues; spreading word of the Twitter effort through auto-obsessed blogs and online publications eager for a peek at its latest bells and whistles; and paying a fledgling Twitter ad network to spread the word among its army of compensated, heavily followed Twitter users, all of whom wallpapered their Twitter profiles with Land Rover branding.”

Okay…interesting enough. Don’t know how I feel about Twitter users wallpapering their profiles with Land Rover branding, but I’ve seen it work for charities, such as 12for12K so I’m not really bothered by it.

AND THEN (enter ominous soundtrack)!!

I read that a company in Des Moines was hired, not for their Twitter expertise, but to pay its 4,500 Tweeters to post on topics and brand their profile pages.

THEY ARE PAYING THEIR FOLLOWERS TO TWEET ON BEHALF OF THEIR CLIENTS?!?

“We were worried it would be considered spam, but we didn’t get a single complaint [about Land Rover],” Mr. Eliason said. “What that tells me is that our connectors have influence.”

Be very afraid this is going to be considered spam, Mr. Eliason. Be very afraid. Your connectors may have influence right now, but as soon as their followers learn they’re being paid to send a message, they will no longer be influential and will lose their following.

Am I wrong?? What do you think?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

31 comments
Gabriella
Gabriella

I read this post a couple of days ago and have been thinking about it ever since, as well as discussing it and engaging co-workers about the whole idea of paying people to tweet about a brand. Personally, I’m on the fence about it because it’s part of our services. My question is this: do you get mad at companies for putting ads on T.V.? Yeah, sometimes they’re irritating – especially during your favorite shows – but does it anger you? Paying people to Twitter about your brand is no different. Either way, it's up to you, as a consumer, to believe or disbelieve what is being said about any particular product or service, whether on Twitter, radio, T.V., newspapers or any other form of media.

Starr
Starr

Patti just introduced me to your blog. She's the best, and isn't paying me to say so (you know that already). This whole issue brings to mind the idea behind PR in the old days when we didn't have the Internet...editorial coverage wasn't guaranteed but it had the news value endorsement of unbiased media you couldn't get with an ad. The sponsored tweets and posts lose that implied credibility, just as more and more on the traditional media side I'm finding editorial space opening up to advertisers in a way that was unheard of before. It saddens me greatly.

Jill
Jill

Here's a question to everyone on here: Did you PERSONALLY see a Land Rover tweet sponsored by Twittad in YOUR stream? I'm taking a wild guess that the answer is no. So how can you judge something that you weren't a part of? The tweets were merely links to a youtube video and a sign up to receive more information. No false sentiments included. I personally do not care if someone merely sends out a link to a product. I know people will say "I'm fundamentally against it". So give me an example of a real experience that made you feel that way and I'll respect you. Otherwise you're really just a nay sayer with no basis.

James Eliason
James Eliason

Paul Dawson: Look on the web version of www.twitter.com. And in your stream of Tweets, you will see "From Web", "From Tweetie", "From TweetDeck", etc at the end of each Tweet? This is where we insert "From Twittad" clearly stating that this is a tweet sent from our technology.

Joanne Hernon
Joanne Hernon

This is a very interesting discussion from all angles. It seems like big business is struggling to figure out how to utilize a vehicle that, by it's very nature, is about personal connections that then enable people to not only reach out but can even help people build their businesses.

I always thought that it was only a matter of time before Twitter would become flooded with spammers so I am glad I have the choice to unfollow.

I wonder now how Range Rover feels about their "campaign" and if it helped their brand or hurt it. I imagine there will be more of these attempts from other big businesses out there as they try to monetize on social networking.

Gini, thank you for opening the discussion.

At Home Money Girl
At Home Money Girl

Everyone is going twitter crazy. People have even found ways to get paid using twitter. For this site to only allow 140 letters w/ spaces, it's really big. Now website is just bit more popular because of it. http://tinyurl.com/bjkucx Twitter moves so fast and everyone puts every little part of their lives on it, even stuff I didn't care to know! But I'm on their too! http://tinyurl.com/dchmkf lol.

Ryan Johnson
Ryan Johnson

Read every post here and most are intelligible gibberish. Twitter has changed; it jumped the shark, it's mainstream and it will be soon brought to you by a brand near you. How long do you think that this service will be provided to you for free? Nothing is free? Everything is paid for by advertising or you pay for itl one way or another. Do you think that Scott Monty is a rat? Why not? He's paid by Ford to Tweet for them? How is he any different than TwittAd? Why isn't there a backlash about him? Ford is paying him to Tweet for them? Do you really think that he likes their cars? Do you think that he would have bought one? Nope, he's on the company teet; just like everyone else. If you're not used to it yet, you will be soon or else you won't be on Twitter. Sorry to to be the bearer of bad news to all you early adopters, but Twitter has gone mainstream. You first clue should have been Ashton, Briney and Oprah! It's gone, baby, gone- as you remember it.

tim nagle
tim nagle

Bottom line is it is spam and a poor branding technique that could be very damaging.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

This is not a rant, rather an opinion about whether or not brands should pay people to tweet about their products. Land Rover was highlighted as the example of a company that used a select number of Twitterers, paid them, and had them promote their brand. It is NOT an opinion about what they did offline or how they promoted the Auto Show. I could say the same about Yoplait or DiGiorno...companies who have tested whether or not they can pay people to advertise on Twitter for them.

Fact of the matter is that I (me, myself, and I) believe it is unethical to PAY people to tweet about a brand. Twitter is about information exchange and, as soon as it becomes a place that advertisers use to brand themselves, it's a moot vehicle.

Harry
Harry

I think I'm catching on ... Keith, Land Rover didn't ask anyone to say anything extra, other than to post a link given by the company itself.

So what we are actually talking about is not people possibly being paid for their tweets or being insincere, but companies renting a person's followers?

Just trying to get on topic.

Paul Dawson
Paul Dawson

James Eliason says that all Tweets ended "from Twittad" and went out between 16th and 18th April.

Why can't I find that term in any tweets through Twitter search? (also tried "from @Twittad") There are no tweets that have the words Land Rover and Twittad in them in any order during that time other than from Twittaders congratulating and thanking Twittad and Land Rover for the cash.

If there were other Tweets that lauded Land Rover products and were paid for, they certainly didn't have the word Twittad in them.

Alternatively, there were no Tweets at all and it was simply profile backgrounds in the campaign with no paid Tweets. Anyone know whic?? It's kinda important to the debate!

Keith Rhodes
Keith Rhodes

No one seems to be listening here. This isn't a discussion forum, this is a rant forum. Want to really know what happened? Closely reread my post above and think about it. Trust me, it's 100% accurate. If you don't believe me, Google my name, you'll figure it out.

Harry
Harry

There are three things that really cook my goose about this conversation

1) Ads are by nature insincere; they may be accurate and well meaning, but you really cannot believe that someone who is paid to endorse a product is really looking out for your best interests. This wasn't passing along a cooking tip, or telling their friends about a good restaurant, campaigns like this use "non-combatants" to go under the radar of a population that has learned to ignore corporate messaging; very subversive. If Land Rover wanted to get a message out, why didn't they use _their_ twitter accounts? If they answer is they don't have a large enough following on twitter, then you must assume that people _don't want to subscribe to ads for products on twitter_.

2) ok, the actual traffic generated by the campaign was very small in the grand scheme of things, but what percentage of Land Rover based messaging on twitter did it represent? Where are the statistics on that? I would assume that LR would know and if everyone was already blabbing about how they can get their groceries most efficiently in their Discovery 3 TDV6 - winner of 2007's best large SUV on the planet - then they wouldn't need to subvert 115 tweeters.

3) 115 tweeters is a hell of a campaign. Assuming that each one only has 100 followers, the possibility of retweets going a long, long way are rather strong. Taking into consideration that the tweeters were _probably_ chosen for their large following, the number gets astronomical rather quickly. This is a relatively well educated audience, please check the patronizing at the door; 115 is a hell of a base.

That feels good! Time for wings and beer!

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Don't get me wrong, I still think people should not be paid to promote brands on Twitter, just like bloggers should not be paid on behalf of a company (i.e. Wal-Mart scandal a few years ago).

But I do like that people are using this blog as a forum to express opinions.

Jill
Jill

Gini, it was interesting to hear your thoughts after you dug a little deeper. I appreciate your venue and your quest for what's ethical. As I reader, I only expect bloggers to conduct themselves with the same amount of integrity that they pointedly and passionately fault others for lacking. In this case, your lack of research ahead of time, and passionate dislike for what you admittedly knew little about had me wondering what basis you had for questioning what is and is not ethical. Just something to think about :)

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

I love, love, love the conversation that is going on here and the difference in opinions!

I'm very pleased to hear from James on the campaign and to learn more about what types of links were used, as well as what types of results were seen from the campaign.

Keith and Jill, I hope you both know this blog post was not personal and that the point is to provide controversy and a platform for discussion, which is precisely what this did.

What this also does for me, specifically, is look at the case study from a 360 degree perspective. I really struggle with what is ethical, what dips the toe across the line, and what is not ethical. I think we're all trying to figure this out because it's so new and I appreciate everyone's feedback - positive and negative.

Jill
Jill

Here's what's wrong: The author of this blog didn't know that only 115 Twitter users were asked to help, they didn't know the content of the tweets that were sent out, and they didn't mention that these users voluntarily, genuinely accepted into this campaign and should be respected for that. I'm more upset about bloggers reading a caption of someone else's article and voicing an opinion as if they have the slightest idea what's going on.

Wes Stalcup @LottaThings
Wes Stalcup @LottaThings

Gini,
The topic has several interesting facets. The notion of touting something they've never owned or used seems to rile people up and it probably should without some disclosure. And what are they actually saying? There is a big difference between saying "I like this" versus "I recommend this based on my experience" when they have none.

If they are just saying "I like this", is it really different than wearing a t-shirt or the rover people putting up a billboard? Personally, when I recommend a product I have to be very familiar with it, own it or use it to feel good about it. I even do that with caps and shirts - I like to have been there or know something personally (maybe weird that way)

However, perhaps more to the point for Rover and the folks in Des Moines will they cost themselves? Probably not... once it's on the sea of tweets, the name will flash in front of us and we will move on to the next. Unless I'm connected to many of that group, I will likely never notice. Besides, seems like 99% of what I get is spam already. So can they measure the effectiveness and will RR get any return?

I recently bought, then became an affiliate for a product. I liked it and used it. Then I tweeted the affiliate link. 2 times I think in 2 days in twitter and I put it on my linkedin page. Although it got hundreds of clicks (only 4 from linkedin), I sold one. no biggie but why? not sure exactly... shortly after me dozens of people were tweeting their affiliate links. Did that taint it? did they sell any? Also the landing page & presentation were a bit lame. What's the learning if one wanted to do a launch?

What's interesting to me is, yesterday, ~2wks later, my link is still getting clicks - I haven't been able to figure out why. Would have thought the half life on something in twitspace was very short. Do people actually go back and read weeks old tweets? Has any one else seen this behavior? From a marketing perspective this is fascinating.

Wes

Keith Rhodes
Keith Rhodes

Important Note: No one was asked to say anything nice or inaccurate about Land Rover. The tweets were centered entirely around a link to a YouTube video about the vehicle and a link to sign-up to be notified when the 2010 vehicles would be in market. The objective was to build awareness of the auto show and to connect online and offlien audiences. Please, before you complain on a massive level about the campaign or it's tactics, understand what the campaign was all about about. Do some research, the information is out there. Note also that TwittAd was only a small part of the campaign; only a supplement, which they did a fantastic job.

The number one rule in life is to be informed before you speak. If you're not, it only demonstrates your ignorance; and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Cheers.

Sarah
Sarah

I am in complete agreement Gini. There may be no objections until the followers find out the influencers are being paid. Then their relevance and transparency will take a huge hit and anything else they tweet about will be suspect. Not exactly the energy a brand like Range Rover is after I would imagine.

Way to take a stand my friend!

Sally
Sally

This would be just like having a bunch of my friends give testamonials on how great our product is. Tacky!

James Eliason
James Eliason

Hello-

Great discussion! Just wanted to chime in with some thoughts.

The campaign ran from April 8th-16th. Today is April 22nd, and only after some press from AdAge and others did people even realize the campaign occured. The emphasis there is that 115 users out of our network of now close to 5,000 were selected. That is 2.3% of our network.

Furthermore, there is full disclosure given by each connector. When the message is sent through Twitter, "From Twittad" is at the end of the Tweet.

Each connector was shown the messages, and each connector agreed to opt-into the campaign. 3 messages X 115 users = 345 messages sent over a span of 7 days. We run numbers all the time, that is our business. During those 7 days, the total number of Tweets sent from our entire network was close to 130,000. So .26% of the total messages sent were for the Land Rover campaign.

Think small scale here. I love Twitter, and so does my team. Never will you see a campaign run on my network that attempts for every single connector to be a part of. You can accomplish big things on Twitter with only 100 users being a part of a program.

Email me if you have any further comments/questions- james@twittad.com. And see this blog post regarding the campaign: http://twittad.com/blog/?p=364

Regards,
James Eliason

Paul Segreto
Paul Segreto

A more effective means of social media marketing would have been to encourage customers to join a social network group for Range Rover and then tweet the link encouraging people to join. While in the group they could interact with other customers and the effect would be far greater than sponsored conversations on twitter. And, without potentially damaging implications and consequences should their current approach spin out of control. Of course, they could then call Arment Dietrich PR for damage control but that's a different story for another day.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Juli - It doesn't take much to get me fired up on Twitter, does it??!

Tim - Am curious to know if the conversation you had generally agreed with you or if there were arguments for the other side? This is all so new that I'm willing to listen, but my gut says it's destructive spin.

Tim Jahn
Tim Jahn

I was having a great discussion on Twitter yesterday about the idea of sponsored conversations with some people. Generally, I feel that once the conversation is sponsored (paid for), the authenticity is lost and therefore all value to the customer is lost. Basically, we know you're lying.

So now whenever I see Land Rover related content online, I'm going to assume it was paid for and is a fabrication. Way to go Land Rover. Way to think outside the box.

Juli
Juli

Gini - I had no idea this is what you were so fired up about. I missed many Tweets today. But I read your post and I have to agree with you. I too would prefer sincere feedback. Not liking what I read.

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Me too, Ces! But that's why you and I are friends!

Ces
Ces

I agree. It seems rather fabricated to me. I would prefer sincere feedback on brands as opposed to something that had to be conjured up!

Arment Dietrich
Arment Dietrich

From @troycostlow:

paid to tweet is only ok if 1. Full Upfront disclosure 2. Tweeter genuinely interested in subject 3. FULL DISCLOSURE