Do Paid Tweets Make You Nauseous?

Whenever I am driving in my car in the afternoon, I listen to the Mason & Ireland sports talk radio show on ESPN710 LA.  Yesterday, I heard an interesting discussion about sponsored tweets among athletes.  They were talking about athletes getting paid for sponsored tweets and pointed out two of the more highly compensated tweeters – former Laker Shaq O’Neil and football player Chad Ochocinco – and also mentioned an article about 5 New Orleans Saints plugging their Twitter feeds for the New Orleans Saints community in the Times-Picayune.

According to Mason and Ireland, Shaq makes about $5 million per year by tweeting to his 4.4 million followers, but he does it with a sense of humor and wit.  On the other hand, Ochocinco appears to blatantly plug his products to his 2.9 million followers.  You can follow the entire discussion with John and Steve from yesterday’s Mason & Ireland show at this link.

For me, it was interesting to hear a social media story spill over into sports talk radio, and the topic generated a bit of debate.  They ultimately posed the question – is there anything ethically wrong with paid tweeting?

In the article about the New Orleans Saints’ player tweeting for the Times-Picayune, the author stated:

The idea of paying players to promote the news site raised a red flag for media ethics educators who say it can create the appearance of an inappropriate relationship between reporters and the subjects they cover.

Upon further review, I also found an article published this week on CNBC.com by Darren Rovell titled, “Paid Tweets are a Gray Area for Athletes and Celebrities“.

[It is a little ironic that Darren wrote an article on paid tweets and his Twitter profile picture includes a Honda logo.  Is he a paid celebrity for Honda or did he just like that picture of himself in front a Honda vehicle enough to select it as a profile photo?]

In the CNBC article, Darren writes about Michael Vick tweeting for McDonalds and mentions a Twitter advertising company called MyLikes.com.  I had never heard of the company, so I decided to check it out.  It turns out that anyone can sign up with MyLikes and begin to monetize their Twitter stream.  After registering for MyLikes, a user is presented with a list of possible tweets (and per click payments) that they can then send out to ‘endorse’ a product or website.

My Paid Tweet Stats from MyLikes.com

To test the service, I actually sent out a couple of tweets from the platform – and earned myself 18 cents for my efforts (but I won’t get paid until I reach a $2 threshold).  I liked that I could actually edit the tweets to modify the tweet to fit my style, and then platform automatically adds a link and “-spon” at the end of the tweet.   The “-spon” is a flag that indicates a sponsored tweet and signals to others that it is a ‘commercial’.

My Experiment With Sponsored Tweets on MyLikes.com

Personally, posting a couple of sponsored tweets feels a little ‘dirty’ and unethical to me.  The little ‘-spon’ added to my tweet could easily be missed and I am sure that many celebrities do not even bother to mention their paid relationship.  Legally, the FTC requires bloggers and tweeters to disclose their connections but the rules governing disclosure are vague and do not appear to be prosecuted.  As a brand, I also think there are far more creative ways to reach customers than using sponsored tweets.

Since I do not actively follow many athletes or celebrities, I appear to be immune to their sponsored tweets and cannot remember even seeing any such tweets.  Or maybe it’s because of the way I use Twitter as a personal bookmark and search engine that I don’t really run across too many ‘spammy’ tweets.  In any case, spamming and advertising on Twitter are here to stay, just like on any other media platform, but I do not think they are effective and my experiment with them is ending.  

So, what do you think about paid and sponsored tweets?

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I also found the following articles and points of view while writing this post and want to share them as well:

From NPR.org — FTC: Bloggers Must Disclose Paid Endorsements

From Techcrunch.com — Full Disclosure: Sponsored Conversations on Twitter Raise Concerns, Prompt Standards

From blogger John Bell — Are Paid Tweets Effective?

From BusinessWeek.com — The Art of Advertising on Twitter