My Opinion on Ads on Twitter [or Sponsored Tweets]

A number of people have asked me recently what I think about running advertising in Twitter streams.

Should it be done or avoided? What impact might it have on you as a Twitter user if you do run them? Are there times you should and shouldn’t use ads to monetize your Twitter account?

My opinion is pretty simple. I know no everyone will agree but it’s probably somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of opinions on the topic. Some argue that Ads should never be used on Twitter – others argue that you should monetize your account in any way you can.

My Opinion on Ads on Twitter:

I have nothing against it in principle. I see no reason why someone investing time, creativity, energy and brain power into becoming an influence in this medium shouldn’t be able to receive financial reward for doing so.

People on Twitter who genuinely grow their audience big enough to attract advertisers are usually doing something useful. Whether it be entertaining, informing, educating, empowering etc – I see people using other mediums making money for doing this type of thing, why not on Twitter?

I make a living from my blogs (about half my income from them is from advertising) and while Twitter is a unique medium in some ways I don’t have issue with it being monetized if done well. Interestingly it was 5 or so years ago that the big debate was about whether blogs should be monetized – many of the same arguments were going back and forth at that time – just replace ‘Blog’ with ‘Twitter Account’ and you’ll from some of those old articles to see where the debate is heading!

Having said that – I personally believe that three elements probably should come into play when considering whether you run a particular ad on your account. The first is perhaps more about ethics than the other two which are for me just good business sense and about delivering value to my followers:

1. Transparency

If you’re being paid to tweet, disclose it. How you clearly do it in 140 characters can be challenging but it can be done ranging from ‘Sponsored Tweet’ in the tweet to ‘#ad’. I suspect we’ll see some widely accepted practices emerge around this in the coming year.

2. Relevancy

I was asked a while back to run an ad in my twitter stream for running shoes – the payout for a single tweet was over $1000. I refused in the same way I would refuse to run the same ad if someone wanted me to run it on my blog. My blog and twitter stream are on the topic of social media and blogging – not shoes or running. While I do stray off topic from time to time on Twitter (and my followers forgive me for doing so) – receiving money for a tweet that is totally irrelevant to my topic will probably not go down well with my followers.

I’m not sure it’d deliver much value to an advertiser either to promote an irrelevant ad (although I see my fair share of them on TV).

Related to this I’d probably also be wanting to only do sponsored tweets that are legitimate and not scammy products or services. Really it comes down to keeping on topic and being useful to followers.

3. Frequency

I’ve run three disclosed and relevant advertising tweets on my @problogger Twitter account in 2 years (one through ad.ly and another two were sold directly). In that time I’ve tweeted 15,330 times. I don’t think I’m in danger of letting my Tweet stream become overrun by paid tweets. However if twitter advertising does take off I could see the temptation for some Twitter users to let their streams become overrun by sponsored Tweets.

In the same way that I refrain for letting all of the real estate on my blog above the fold get overrun with advertising (pushing the content down under the fold) I would want to let ‘content’ and being useful be the primary thing that I do on my Twitter account.

What other Factors Would You Ad?

These are the three main factors that I’d consider as I look at whether I’ll tweet something for money.

Comments

  • November 25, 2009

    I can’t stand ad’s on twitter. I do advertise my own brand, but it is clear by my twitter handle what I am selling, and 9 out of 10 of my y=tweets are conversation/replies/re-tweets. I am seriously turned off by affiliate marketers, period.

  • November 25, 2009

    You can’t get a little bit pregnant. Either you are for sale and will say what you are told to, or you do your own thing.

    You justify giving paid tweets by the frequency of them and while your information is useful, I prefer to get my information from people that are not subtly influenced by mere money.

  • November 25, 2009

    It really comes down to a case by case basis.
    Go with your gut feeling.
    If someone is tweet mediocre content
    day in and day out, then ads are just more reason to unfollow.

    With that said,
    people take great tweets for granted.
    There is a serious time investment to unselfishly share
    everything you believe can help others,
    plus answer every reasonable question, and request for help,
    plus have some personal interaction.

    If my followers demand 100% useful, actionable knowledge
    year after year and resent any opportunity for me to gain,
    good riddance. That’s a one-way greedy relationship.
    (heck ignoring ads is like they are giving back with no cost to them!)

    I’ve been thanked endlessly by some of the least-dependent giants
    on Twitter for my info sharing, help, and inspiration.
    I’m not going to name drop, but trust me – I mean the top down.
    If some individual is self-centered enough to think an affiliate link,
    or 2 ads in 24 hours would taint the other 99% of my stream,
    it’s simple: Go back to MySpace ;-)

  • November 25, 2009

    I see what you mean Darren about the relevancy and i admire your courage for turning down the deal with the runners. My question is though, how long do you think it will be before we see an adsense-like advertising program? With your tweets keywords being used to determine the advertising you tweet. Do you think a program like that would be Pay-Per-Click or Pay-Per-Tweet?

  • November 25, 2009

    I too don’t have problems with people monetizing their tweets as long as they don’t over do it.

    I might buy something useful from these tweets lol

  • November 25, 2009
    harveyharv
    @harveyharv

    let free enterprise have it;s way – we on twitter are using a wonderful social network, so far it’s it’s been a free ride

  • November 25, 2009
    Stone Atwine
    @StoneAtwine

    That’s a very nice article. And thanks for comparing it to blogging monetization a few years ago.

    I brought up the same point while discussing the issue of in-tweet advertising with a friend recently. He blogs and makes money by advertising on his blog but says he is totally against sponsored tweets. I think that’s hypocrisy at its best.

    We just need to come up with standards that guide everyone in regards to in-tweet advertising.

  • November 25, 2009

    The beauty of Twitter and any permission marketing media is that it is pretty self regulating. You run the risk of your followers taking away their permission but if they don’t, I guess you have got the balance just about right. If you continue to follow your 3 guiding principles you’d keep my permission but only time will tell if you can resist the lure of the greenback!

  • November 25, 2009

    I agree with David Mercer – the market will regulate itself. Those who overdo it will lose followers and influence, legitimte advertisers will take the money to those who are the best fit for their brand – those Tweeps who are interesting, ethical, exclusive, and have cache. You could have worked with running advertiser to come up with suitable message – like something your readers could have learned from. How many leads that company is getting from SM, or how they report SM #s to CEO, or what % of mktg budget their spending on SM, or how fast it’s growing for them, etc. Advertising needs to change, also, is what I’m saying.

  • November 25, 2009

    Not much difference in my view or someone’s paid view. They are both just “views”. Everybody is pushing something, even those who don’t want ads on Twitter.

  • November 25, 2009

    Hi Darren, Bruce here (from your excellent forum problogger.com).

    I think the market will decide what to tolerate. If I follow somebody and notice that every second Tweet is an ad, I would drop them.

    In our case (3K followers) we do a sponsored Tweet about once every 4 or 5 days – so it’s a drop in the bucket. A little revenue for the time spent is nice and I don’t think our followers mind. So, like most things in life moderation is key. A little drip here and there works for us and I don’t mind seeing a few within the stream of the guys I follow.

    Bruce
    The Hockey Writers

  • November 25, 2009

    Hi Darren,

    I was just looking at a twitter advertising service today http://ad.ly/ I noticed a few people are giving the money generated to charity.

    Maybe you should consider going down that route, with the money on offer, you could make a serious difference to an organization. Infact maybe you could put it to your users, get all of them to sign up and tweet their advertising earnings to charity. Suppose all your users and some of your peers in the blogging industry put all the Twitter earnings money into one big account and give it away at the end of the year.

    What are talking? Millions of dollars?

    Just a thought.

  • November 25, 2009

    To me, it’s about context. How has a person managed their stream thus far? Have tweets included links to consumables of some kind anyway? If so, followers have grown accustomed to seeing links to amazon, or Target, or wherever. Because the owner of the stream has established that from the get-go. So, I think in this case, ads in tweets kind of make sense, where maybe they wouldn’t with someone who never linked to a product before.

    My 2cents.

    Cheers for the post!

  • November 25, 2009

    Today I had 6000 followers I know 20 in real life so the question isn’t would I send an ad YES. The real question is the business model of sponsored tweets is corrupt and I won’t participate.
    From NY Times:
    Izea receives at least 15 percent of the advertiser’s payment to more popular Twitter users, and up to half for the less distinguished.
    I like Ted as a person but once again he has come up with a slanted and selfish business model and I don’t need it and I ASSUME they don’t need me so NO I won’t be making any rich people richer.
    I have better ways to make money then selling crappy ads ;)
    This site is looking awesome BTW :)

  • November 25, 2009

    I am completely ok with monetized tweets. I only follow people I trust so I welcome their opinions on products they feel are tweet worthy – and I like to see new products they have developed themselves. If they start spamming, they lose my trust and I hit the unfollow or block button.

    And I totally agree with Darren’s statement – “I see no reason why someone investing time, creativity, energy and brain power into becoming an influence in this medium shouldn’t be able to receive financial reward for doing so.” Absolutely.

  • November 25, 2009

    I see the real issue as how so many people think getting money for something other than a job is evil moneygrubbing corruption.
    Yet these are the same people who click on all those ‘make money online’ ads in the hope of leaving those jobs they hate so much.

    If money wasn’t surrounded by so much hype and emotionality, and everyone recognised that it was simply a way to exchange value, then the heat would leave the debate. Instantly. We’d all probably be much happier too, allowing ourselves to give value in whatever way we chose.

    Sadly, we’re not there yet. Maybe when we convert the 99th monkey in 2012 and the world as we know it changes…

  • November 25, 2009

    Excellent article! Back when I first launched my blog I was adamant that there would be no advertising. I felt doing it this way would allow me to say or do what I wanted on my blog. I’m now up to 6 blogs and that takes time to maintain so getting a little to help cover the time spent online is rather nice. I’m really picky about what advertising I will allow on my blogs though. So when I joined up to Twitter and got an offer from Sponsored Tweets I thought well why not. Essentially tweeting is microblogging. I had tried a couple of ad systems using Twitter but thought they were cheesy. ST allows you to write your own ad so I like that and it’s not like I get many offers anyway so if I do one a month it pays me more than some other advertising revenues.

    Advertising is part of life but now we can filter it out. I have no problem with the occasional ad on Twitter since they are doing the same thing I am. The only time I would have a problem if the only thing they tweeted was ads. Your stream will let you know if you tweet too many ads.

  • November 25, 2009
    Pedro M.

    Twitter is just hucksters trying to get other huckster to drive meaningless traffics. It’s all BS…

    http://lonerboner.com/hatebomb-calling-bullshit-on-twitter

  • November 25, 2009

    i think @ed is onto something. if you have useful content for the most part, and the ad is somewhat related to what you tweet about or a product or service that you use and endorse, i dont see the issue advertising some. if every other tweet is an ad, then i would probably not follow that person. i dont like spam in any form.

    beside, arent people already advertising in some ways on twitter? they may not look like ads we are accustomed to, but then twitter is a new medium. there are people i follow who post links to their latest blog posts or promote their newest book or educational materials.

    heck, i got to this very post because of a tweet from darren.

    for some reason ads are villainized these days. dont get me wrong, there are ads that i despise, but how do you find out about products and services that might benefit you if not for advertisements?

  • November 25, 2009

    You can’t get much farther into “anti-marketing” than me, but I don’t have a huge problem with some people doing it, like you said, topically. It’s a huge shift for me. I realized I had no problem with people promoting their own stuff, or even affiliate links, so why not this if it’s disclosed?

    You can even make a case for hidden or undisclosed affiliate link tweets are worse than sponsored tweets.

  • November 25, 2009

    Personally, I think that sponsored tweets could be (and perhaps should be) disclosed using something like CMP.LY. That’s why the Founders behind cmp.ly (Tom Chernaik & Kris Smith) created the network, as a way to push transparency in social media and digital communications. To agree with Darren’s points on “Relevancy” and “Frequency”, if a person were to venture way off topic from what they usually tweet about or if they constantly do nothing but tweet advertisements, it’s easy for me to hit the “Unfollow” button. So if you want to run sponsored tweets on your Twitter Account, by all means go right ahead. I just caution you to do so in moderation because you run the risk of losing followers and losing influence if all you do is bombard your followers with ads.

    Would I tweet if somebody paid me to? Again, I think that boils down to relevancy. If it’s relevant to what I do and what I talk about I suppose the chances are that I might very well consider it. In fact, you might say that I’ve done it through the various events that I’ve participated in in the past. Like REBlogworld for example. Though I wasn’t paid to tweet for the event, I was part of the team that contributed to the events success. Furthermore my company designed the event site for REBlogworld. So although I wasn’t paid to tweet for the event, I certainly did tweet about it at every opportunity with the intent of driving traffic/registrations. But again, it’s relevant to what I do and tweet because speaking at events is part of my profession. It’s relevant (as it should be).

  • November 25, 2009

    Obviously there are some twitter streams that we follow IN ORDER TO hear deals, etc. For instance, if a local bookstore advertises that you might miss some up and coming deals if you don’t follow them on Twitter, you’re going to be advertised to.

    I can see that Darren probably isn’t referring to accounts such as these. Although I do see the correlation to the older blog debate, I do see some differences, one being that advertising in a Twitter stream is advertising WITHIN the content. On a blog, typical advertising could be separate, ie. the sidebare, etc.

    All of that being said, I think if an occasional advert would be acceptable if done properly, transparently and it is niche-friendly (if that’s a real saying).

  • November 26, 2009

    I really feel I’ve got to agree with Stratten on the point that really affiliate marketing links could be viewed as worse than sponsored tweets. Anyone can send out cloaked affiliate links in a promotional way, though with sponsored tweets, you need to have some social “pull” in order for companies to feel it VALUABLE to get your tweet endorsement and pay you to share that. At least with Sponsored Tweets, you have the #ad designation of some kind with that tweet, so peeps at least will see that.

    Like you said Darren, back early on with blogging, monetizing blogs was a HUGE thing just as it currently is with Twitter. This too will soon pass.

  • November 30, 2009

    I’ve really been trying to avoid commenting on this post because I feel so passionately about it, but I couldn’t resist.

    Why do we have this idea that refusing to make money and “taking the high road” is somehow this noble pursuit where we’re all in it for everyone else?

    Hell, even this disclosure thing has become more of a “it feels good” issue than an ethical issue. How long have we really expected people to disclose everything they do – and why should they. If you buy it, it’s on you. If you haven’t realized by now that everything is advertising and you are always going to be under the attack of some form of monetization, then you’ve been living under a rock.

    Look, I love to help people, and I give for free all the time – on both Twitter and my blog, but to be labeled a bad guy because I want to be compensated…well that’s just rubbish.

    What would everyone do if all of these evil marketers just packed up their bags and stopped blogging/tweeting/facebooking? What if every single blog went to a paid model?

    The truth is that if you want something for free, you have to pay somewhere else. And if you aren’t the one paying, then why complain?

    I fail to see how there is nobility in refusing to monetize. It’s like reading Atlas Shrugged all over again.

  • November 30, 2009

    its inevitable that sponsored tweets are on their way. already my sponsors request that i tweet about them. i’m almost thinking there needs to be some kind of hash tag to define when the actual tweet is sponsored, and when the tweet is for sponsored content on your blog, or when you are tweeting about someone who is paying you money

    it’s just way too hazy out there, i see tweets from bloggers tweeting about this new company they are working for, and you know that they used their twitter followers in negotiation. but to an untrained eye, you’d have no idea what the tweet was about.

    i don’t think they’re doing it on purpose, but it’s happening more and more every day as corporations start tapping into the blogger skill pool.

    this concern isn’t so much about ‘leveling’ the playing field as much as it’’s causing backlashes from the readers. it’s not pretty.

    i’ve done several sponsored posts, and so far, my readers don’t mind, they even like some of them, and tweet and link to them, as i’m very careful to make sure its relevant. if the same thing is applied to tweets, i;m sure it can be done successfully.

  • December 1, 2009

    I think if we want to earn money from our genuine marketing efforts on twitter then there is nothing wrong. I see sponsored posts on many blogs and forums, so what’s wrong with tweets ? I’m just unsure about FTC rules in case of disclosure on twitter.

  • December 2, 2009

    I agree with you Darren.
    Every Twitter user that cares about its followers/business must consider those three factors you just mentioned.

  • December 3, 2009

    Great summary on sponsored tweets. I know for me, at times, it’s been tempting to take a few bucks to publish some #ad that’s totally irrelevant, and I admit, I’ve done it a couple times.

    But I appreciate the advice and will think twice next time, especially if I feel it will devalue what I’m truly trying to share with followers.

    Thanks again for the good stuff!

  • January 16, 2010

    There’s a difference in following something that you know tweets ads or links to deals – like woot or coupon tweeters than someone who has sponsered tweets. I have seen so many ads that just link to really scammy sites, I have to wonder why? They are basically just making themselves look bad.

  • February 5, 2010

    Instead of sponsored Tweets, people (and companies) should also think about Twitter PPC feed supplements and how it may work for them.

    Imagine a company who targets exactly who you want to engage with, who engages that audience with relevant content and you only pay on a PPC platform.

    That is what we do at WebPartner. Businesses large and small and even individuals have benefited.

    Thanks
    Stephen Iacullo
    VP Sales and Marketing
    WebPartner

  • March 11, 2010

    No reason to get upset that people are making a little bit of money. It is done ALL over the internet. Seriously, why not Twitter?

    I think saying that “you are for sale or you’re not” is a little overboard. There is a difference between running 3 sponsored ads over 15k tweets and running 5 a day.

    Bottom line… If you don’t like it then don’t do it! If you feel that you would like a bit of compensation for your efforts, go for it!

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