by Herman Manson (@marklives) Not an awful lot seems to have been written about sponsored tweets making their way into the Twitter feeds of media organisations or journalists until a mini blowout early last year, when The Associated Press started publishing paid-for tweets, clearly marked SPONSORED TWEET but which still caused some upset.
The initial reaction of many editorial teams to paid-for tweets on their news feed is one of horror. In media, reputation does matter — without credibility, you don’t have readers, which means you don’t have advertisers, which ultimately means you don’t have a business.
Taken very seriously
Media ethics is taken very seriously and competitors won’t hesitate to stick the knife in at even the mildest hint of anything inappropriate.
Media brands have invested significant resources into the smooth running of social media channels. It puts the brand out there, catches new readers and send traffic to websites, all while hopefully still scooping competitors (a matter of pride at most news organisations).
Through paid-for tweets they hope to recoup at least some of this investment in a more direct manner.
Enough to keep you afloat
The Nieman Journalism Lab reported as long ago as November 2011 that regional papers in the US were experimenting with paid-for tweets; in one instance, this brought in as much as 5% of total advertising revenue for one local paper. In terms of media margins today — that could well be enough to keep you afloat and publishing.
AP has certainly helped push the practice into the mainstream. As long as sponsored tweets are clearly identifiable, there are no ethical questions which don’t already extend into other publishing spheres.
It goes like this: can your content be credible when you receive advertising revenue from those you cover? The answer is, of course, yes. As long as clear guidelines exist.
Some are obvious: people don’t want to be spammed with advertising, so keep them few and relatively far between, and mark paid-for tweets as, well, paid-for.
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission suggests clear indicators of a tweet being sponsored, so it needs to be marked with ‘Ad,’ ‘Sponsored’ or ‘Sponsored Tweet’, rather than an abbreviation such as ‘#spon’ which might not be clear in meaning to all tweeps. Disclosure should be upfront and not follow on after the message.
Some commentators have raised the concern that “advertising isn’t journalism” (no, it’s not, but if it’s marked as advertising, it doesn’t pretend to be journalism, now does it?) and that it might confuse readers as to what is news and what is, in effect, advertorial.
Offline consumers smarter than online?
This sounds like a suggestion that offline consumers are smarter than online consumers — after all, when we see advertorial in newspapers or in magazine we know it for what it is (don’t we?). For some reason, the same principle doesn’t seem to hold online…
The more important point is: will it offend or irritate followers? It might but, as with all media, people understand that they can make a simple cost-benefit analysis and, if the odd sponsored tweet doesn’t outweigh the relevance and benefit found in following a particular feed, continue to stick around.