Celeb Endorsements Come to Twitter

Paid sponsorships have become the latest frontier in the Twitterverse, thanks in part to social media marketing firm Izea, but not without stirring up a fierce debate at the same time.

Izea launched Sponsored Tweets this week to connect popular tweeters with advertisers — who, in turn, pay tweeters to tweet. And reaction is mixed. Some experts say this is a natural progression of Twitter and that paid tweets are no different than any celebrity using their clout to endorse a brand. Others go so far as to say paid tweets are the end of Twitter as we know it.

As Izea Chief Executive Ted Murphy describes it, Sponsored Tweets is a marketplace that connects tweeters and advertisers.

When notable tweeters sign up for the service, they can select how much they would like to be paid per tweet as well as a preference about whether they would like to write the tweets themselves or use tweets from advertisers (or both). Advertisers then create “opportunities” and search for Twitter users based on a number of factors like a user’s Twitter grade, the number of followers they have or even their friend/follower ratio. Advertisers use this information to come up with a list of matches for a campaign and then reach out to potential tweeters. From there, the tweeter has the ability to accept or reject the offer, much like — believe it or not — looking for love online.

“It’s almost like a dating service for advertisers and tweeters,” Murphy says. “We’re helping make a match, but it isn’t always a match.”

The company has about a 60 percent match rate right now, he claims. However, Murphy declined to talk about any specific advertisers using the system. Sponsored tweeters include everyone from mainstream celebrities like Kendra Wilkinson and Bethenny Frankel to Internet superstars like Chris Pirillo and “Aloha” Arleen Anderson.

The service helps align these tweeters with the right brands, Murphy says. Plus, Sponsored Tweets brings a degree of transparency to celeb/brand deals that doesn’t exist in the outside world.

“In the celebrity world, you’d be astounded by how many deals are cut that aren’t disclosed and aren’t transparent,” he says. “We’re trying to bring disclosure and transparency to the process and make more sponsorships available to more people.”

So what’s wrong with that?

Plenty, says Brandon Mendelson, the self-described “most followed regular guy on Twitter.”

In an e-mail with the subject “Sponsored Tweets are just Awful,” Mendelson writes, “Sponsored tweets are the worst thing to happen to Twitter since 140 Fun and the other quiz applications [that] hit the stream. It’s bad news for folks trying to build an audience around trust, which is what we need to succeed in social publishing.”

He estimates that within six months Sponsored Tweets will either fold as a failed experiment or become so obscure that few people will use it.

Richard Laermer, author of “Punk Marketing” and “2011: Trendspotting,” agrees that paid tweets are a bad idea. He says Twitter is not the place for people to talk about something in a sponsored vein.

“People think they are talking to a person (on Twitter) and in fact the person is nothing more than a shill,” Laermer writes. “Tweeting is not about shilling — it’s about talking and being part of something that shares ideas and info.”

But Murphy argues that paid tweets are comparable to sponsored blog posts and that they don’t lessen the credibility of any tweeters as long as those tweeters are honest about what they are saying. (To this end, Sponsored Tweets has a “disclosure engine” that adds a disclosure phrase to each tweet.)

“We make it so anyone with a computer and a credit card can start a campaign and that scares a lot of people,” he says. “And rather than looking at it as a tool…they get fearful.”

Dan Redman, media and paid search director at eVisibility, tends to agree. In a post entitled, “‘F-U Pay Me’: the Internet is NOT Free,” he writes that users that complain about sponsored content are “plain and simple, spoiled brats.”

He says if you are consistently offering value to your readers, you have earned the right to advertise to them.

“There is no difference between paying Michael Jordan to be the face of Nike, Gatorade, or Hanes and getting (marketing guru Jeremy “Shoemoney” Schoemaker) to wear your funny t-shirt or tweet about your product or service,” Redman writes. “Audience targeting is the simple name of the game… If you attack sponsored content then you are denouncing celebrity endorsement via all mediums.”

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