Paid Tweeting Will Destroy Twitter

Yes, it will. I may live to regret this claim if paid tweeting turns out instead to be a multi-billion-dollar contextual marketing ploy on the level of paid search, but I’m willing to take that chance. A report in the New York Times this week on the growth of paid tweeting was for me the canary in the coal mine (that pun was only slightly intended), signaling the potential ruin of not just Twitter, but of all social media marketing models that confuse word-of-mouth with being a paid mouthpiece.

The idea is for advertisers to identify relevant influencers on Twitter and pay them to slip the occasional sly endorsement in-between their itemization of their daily carb intake and their meta-commentary on the last episode of Gossip Girls. This presents obvious credibility problems for both the Twitter star and the brand being endorsed. It creates what economists refer to as a perverse incentive, i.e., the influencer is being influenced by the something other than his/her genuine love of the product, which in turn diminishes his influence and does nothing for the reputation of the product.

Consider the example—and I wish I could say I am making this up—of musician Ernie Halter’s Twitter endorsement of, yes, Cheese Doodles: “sponsored: yo! cheese doodles is giving away sweet prizes in the “rock the cheese” video contest. Check it!” Suffice it to say that neither the Cheese Doodle brand nor the Ernie Halter brand is elevated by such moments.

The money quote in the Times piece comes from the co-founder of a Twitter sponsorship service, who defends the practice by saying, “All we are trying to do is get consumers to become marketers for us.” Exactly the problem. Consumers are not marketers, and when consumers gush about brands they truly love in social media, their credibility comes from the fact that they are not marketers.

It is much, much harder work for brands (and their agencies) to build social media followings from scratch, and to build the kind of brand relationships that produce authentic word-of-mouth, but that is the task before us. And if anyone would like to make an unpaid endorsement of White Horse on Twitter, please use the following text: “yo! White Horse has mad skillz in the digital media and what-not. Check it!” Thank you.