Will celebrities like Heidi Montag be able to move the sales needle when they make transparently commercial posts for a company on their Facebook pages? Evidently, Ad.ly has already convinced a handful of big brands that people such as Montag - with a large number of Facebook "likers" - will do just that.
The Beverley Hills, CA-based advertising platform announced Wednesday that it offers marketers the opportunity to pitch products through so-called influencers on the social site. The company began offering the same service on Twitter one year ago and on MySpace in June.
"Basically, the advertisers want more reach," said Sean Rad, president of Ad.ly. "No brand has done all three [social sites simultaneously] yet. But, we have some very, very large brands that are going to launch with all three very soon…We actually have signed deals. We cannot name them. Though, they are some of the very largest brands in the world."
One small retail brand, PetFlow, has leveraged Ad.ly's automated platform via Montag's Facebook page. The reality TV star's account posted the following message on Wednesday: "Just found Petflow.com, they deliver pet food right to my door for free! No more lugging heavy bags! http://bit.ly/arphNu Ad". And the same copy appeared on Montag's Twitter page. The "Ad" copy seen at the end of Montag's message is required by the Federal Trade Commission for the sake of transparency, said Krista Thomas, VP of marketing for Ad.ly.
Indeed, her company's platform lets celebrities, athletes, or other popular personalities place ads into their social activity streams. In addition to Montag, she said, participants include skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, NBA basketball player Paul Pierce, comedic talk show host Stephen Colbert, and TV personality Dr. Drew Pinsky, among others.
Thomas said celebrities get compensated for the commercial posts/tweets on a pay-per-message model. More specifically, she said that payments are based on an equation that includes: their number of followers/fans/friends on a social site; how often they tweet or post, and engagement achieved (number of replies, re-tweets, click-throughs, etc.). And the company's platform - called "Influencer Network" - charges brands on a CPM model, Thomas said.
She said some of those celebrities have recently authored promotional tweets on Twitter and posts on MySpace on behalf of brands like Toyota, CNN, Sony, NBC, Microsoft, and Universal. A Toyota "Swagger Wagon" campaign effort, she said, helped garner 2.7 million YouTube views.
Meanwhile, Rad said Facebook has signed off on the endorsement posts appearing on official brand pages. "It is within Facebook's guidelines," he said. "A fan page has the permission for a fee to promote a brand…but a user page does not."
Endorsements for major brands will begin appearing on Facebook within the next three or four weeks, Thomas said. "It's very similar to the [traditional] endorsement marketplace, but at a micro-level, obviously," she said. "So it's much more affordable to a far larger group of marketers. We have proven out that model in the past year on Twitter, and the company is growing quickly. We have a price point that marketers can afford, up and down the full range."
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
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