While Facebook became cluttered with consistently poor banner ads, Twitter has passed through the overt commercialisation of social networks with its dignity largely in tact. Save for some promoted tweets, Twitter feels like a utility solely for its users with very few strings attached.
Paid advertising may be rare, but promotion such as this “@Lord_Sugar pls RT justgiving.com/sadie-rose-app… to help Sadie-Rose fight cancer she is only 2 years old and fighting for her life” is commonplace. These are tweets by ‘regular users’ requesting those users with large influence on the site to retweet to their followers and spread the message or cause.
It was recently used to great effect by Anne Williams who needed 100,000 signatures on an e-petition in order for there to be an inquest into the death of her son who was killed during the Hillsborough disaster. Going into the final day that the petition was still a good 20,000 short despite significant coverage online and in the press.
Up steps the world’s favourite microblogging site. Through retweets from great swathes of the digital community including current Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish her cause reached the computer screens of the many hundreds of thousands of followers of these celebrities who in turn spread the message and the petition reached its full 100,000 signatures before the day was up.
While I’m sure that famous Tweeters may grow tired of these constant RT requests I feel that they are a fairly understandable use of Twitter and tend to be requested for a good cause rather than personal publicity and carried out through the benevolence of the celebrity.
This advertising free zone is, however, at increasingly great risk from sites such as pay4tweets and whatsyourtweetworth which facilitate the sale of tweets.
Popular users register their Twitter account on these sites and set a price per tweet. Other users seeking promotion then have the opportunity to buy a piece of 140 character real estate which, temporarily, has a prime place on the Twitter feeds of users around the world.
The most popular tweeter currently registered with pay4tweets has a fairly respectable 810698 followers and charges a whopping $90 per tweet. @funnyorfact bring in $200 per tweet to their 407,909 followers.
Whatsmytweetworth allows you to type in usernames and find out their value and sets the value according to the number of followers an account has. While @domgilchrist is worth an underwhelming $0.97 per tweet, they estimate @ladygaga’s tweets at $26960.29 a pop.
I certainly hope that this covert commercialism limits itself to fairly inconsequential accounts as it has at the moment. I don’t think there’s much risk that more interesting users will sell out and start peppering their tweets with adverts and endorsements since at that point Twitter would step in since it significantly undermines their ‘promoted tweet’ service. The risk is that a Twitter will become embroiled in a commercial culture and promotional tweets will become the rule rather than the exception.
I recently attended a talk by advertising expert Sir Martin Sorrell who discussed at great length the adaptations he had made to his business model in order to fully embrace social networking as an advertising source with ‘new media’ now 30% of his business. He claimed that companies such as Twitter and Google are as much commercial media owners as News International.
I disagree. I think that these are services with far more backbone and morality than News International. Google has displayed this most notably in China. Not only this, but they are fresh sleek businesses epitomising the dotcom generation with a sense of cool only found online. There are countless examples of Google not taking itself entirely seriously from it’s regular Google Doodles to its ‘I’m feeling lucky’ search. If the use of these commercial tweet services grows, Twitter will lose any edginess and a lot of credibility.
Quoth thy master Justin Timberlake in the Social Network: “you don’t want to ruin it with ads because ads aren’t cool”.
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