Saturday, June 06, 2009

Pay-per-tweet? Responses to it? Sigh. I never realized I was such a capitalist!

Catching up on my blog reading after a week in NYC, I came across this piece on Mashable: Will Pay Per Tweet Ruin Twitter?.

As per usual, the post itself only generated a part of my response below, with the lengthy comment thread providing most of the fodder. I started to leave a comment, but you may already know my personal rule: If I start to leave a comment, and it exceeds three paragraphs? It deserves to be a blog post instead.

And here we go, first with some background:

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a company called Pay Per Post that paid bloggers a nominal fee to write posts for PPP customers, including specified links etc. PPP came under fire for a variety of policy issues, including the fact that they didn't require disclosure that the posts in question were paid for, and for the fact that sometimes bloggers didn't get samples of products they were paid to write these truly seemed to be regurgitation of company talking points, not authentic reviews or opinions.

Now, it was bad enough when some bloggers and blog readers got their knickers in a twist about it...that created repeated brouhahas and blog swarms. But then Google got wind of it, and decided to strip page rank from blogs who in engaged in PPP. So what? I mean Google ain't the law, right? They're not even the only search engine. They aren't the boss of you, me or any other blogger. All true, but, you know, bloggers can rationalize losing readers who don't like what they blog about, but having Google impact their blog's rank (and therefore search presence and, let's face it, credibility, was another matter altogether.

So, the market having spoken, Pay Per Post changed their name (to Izea) and changed some of their policies. Hey, its a nascent market, a nascent industry, so I guess kudos to them for adapting. Now, to my knowledge, whatever else they may do and whatever you may think, they require disclosure, and they use the no-follow tag to appease Google.

End of story? Not on your life. Apparently now, Izea has introduced a pay-per-tweet service, and it's deja vu all over again. PS: Here on in I will call it PPT. Because I'm lazy like that.

So, telling that the fable above and offering my kudos to Izea's adaptability is not to say that:

a. I agree with such programs or policies
b. That I would participate in them
c. That that's the way BlogHer would ever do things. (Full disclosure: We do things differently. If you want to see how we do things and why, read this post. We like our way of doing things just fine, think we've cracked the code, and it happens to not be like Izea's particular approach.)

But some things just make me go hmmm. Once again, as my partner Jory pointed out in one of her columns for Jack Myers, people are abandoning analysis and nuance in favor of sweeping condemnation and a weird need to control others instead of controlling themselves.

And I found a surprising impulse with me. Me, the bleeding heart who thinks a lot about right and wrong and what should be done about it. I found my inner capitalist, and she was saying: "Let the reader decide. Let the market decide."

Another thing I'm not saying: I'm not saying that people aren't completely entitled to express their outrage or disappointment over this new program. Totally your right, free country, blah-di-blah-di-blah. And i completely support your right to vote with your feet, your wallet, your eyeballs. In fact, once you've publicly denounced something, aren't you kind of obligated to do so? :)

But, barring fraud or some other criminality, my inner capitalist is saying: "Let people and companies try as many new things in this space as they like."

Because the real, true beauty of my online experience? I control it. I'm tired of complaints about "the noise". Turn down the noise, people, the controls are in your hands!! it's called "unfollow" or "unsubscribe" or filtering, and I recommend using it liberally.

Mashable's Adam Ostrow actually makes the same argument, so I agree with 90% of his post. But my jaw dropped a bit at this sweeping generalization:
"Personally, I think any review – on a blog or on Twitter – is immediately de-valued if the author is being paid to write it, because the objectivity is lost."

And this whole post started because I wanted to respond to the following comment thread about that statement:

Hmm, if you argue that all critics who are paid can't be objective, you could say the same thing about Roger Ebert, book reviewers and other pros. It depends on the critic's experience.

Adam Ostrow:
eh, but Roger Ebert *needs* the content in order to review it, and people want his reviews of this weekend's new movies. Reviews of random products by random people for pay is quite a bit different imo.

I agree. It's Roger Eberts job, he loves movies and people want his reviews. He's not just a guy reviewing anything just to make some money.

See, I agree with Lisawriter that it is a pretty sweeping statement to say:
"Personally, I think any review – on a blog or on Twitter – is immediately de-valued if the author is being paid to write it, because the objectivity is lost."

Any review? Really?

Well, no, later both Adam and commenter Kage make it clear that some paid reviews are OK, like Roger Ebert's, for what seem to me to be totally specious reasons. Getting paid is OK if "people want the reviews"? Or if someone "loves" what they review?

Couldn't that apply to bloggers and Twitterers too?

Well, clearly it could, so does Adam simply have a problem with the medium of blogs and Twitter? It is not the skill, desire or market for the reviewer's output that matters, but where he or she publishes that matters? Or are we to think that no one of professional caliber writes online?

And I don't think he means that either.

Nope, what we're all saying is that quality content is desirable and inauthentic shilling is not. In any form, on any channel.

And if you're among the population who agree with that definition of what matters?

Then use the controls at your command to fix it. Make 'em pay!

When I see a comment like this:

Jillian C. York:
"Twitter lost its "purity" when Oprah showed up and the unwashed masses followed suit, with absurd daily memes and obnoxious bios."

I want to ask her: Have you heard of unfollowing??

Because Jillian is not complaining about fraud or hate speech. This isn't a debate like the one about whether Facebook should really allow hate groups, but not breastfeeders.

No, she's complaining about, shudder, memes and the unwashed masses, the horror, the horror.

Hey, I tend to agree more with this commenter:

"I think you're right that as long as it is disclosed via the #spon hastag, there's really no harm to me as a Twitter user. I wouldn't tweet about a product I didn't like just to get paid, but if a company was offering to pay me to tweet about something I actually use, I'd probably do it. It's like we're all celebrities who can get endorsement deals. Some will be shady, but some will be genuinely interesting and fun. What is killing Twitter for me is all the Social Media "Coaches" and SEO "Experts." Too much meta-Twitter for me."

If it's not memes, it's meta-Twittering that'll get ya!

Now, I don't want to get frivolous or disingenuous about it. Take this comment:

Dave Taylor Yesterday 10:07 PM
"This is really easy, gang: if you don't want to follow someone who sends out sponsored messages, then unfollow them when you see a #spon tweet.

On the other hand, when I post a "Check out my new blog post: http://www.tiny.url/" isn't that an advert? When I get tweets from people saying "Listening to XX speak about YY. Boring #conf" isn't that advertising with a direct, user feedback spin?

As you can guess, I'm with Dave on the first paragraph...all the way. Unfollow anyone who you feel is spamming you via Twitter.

And the lovely and talented Gwen Bell, with whom I shared a rare vegan meal in Vegas, seems to be with Dave on the second paragraph too, at least according to her post: Newsflash: We're all shilling.

But while I actually agree that people who constantly tweet their latest blog posts are annoying, and while I may personally think the phrase "Please Retweet" should be stricken from the lexicon, I don't actually equate exchanging linky love with exchanging contracts and cash. I just don't. I don't think we're all shilling all the time, either.

There are some services/companies out there that require a tweet or retweet in order to enter a contest. I see the dozens of tweets go by, and it bugs me. I don't think it's a best practice to ask your customers to spam their followers for you in order to win something.

On the other hand, I often tweet something BlogHer is up to from the @BlogHer account and see bunches of people retweet it, unprompted.

Part of me thinks "I hope no one thinks we told people they should tweet that!"
Part of me thinks, "Wow, so cool that they think that's tweet-worthy".
All of me thinks that it was those twitterers choice to retweet it, and their readers can choose to like it or lump keep following or hit Unfollow in frustration.

Here's an example: I have twice tweeted from my personal Twitter account, unprompted, about a BlogHer sponsor/advertiser. Once about Kozy Shack introducing soy pudding, once about discovering that Clorox Green Works considers "not testing on animals" to be one of the core principles a "natural" product should follow.

Well, most people who follow me know I am one of BlogHer's few, proud, token vegans. I don't blog/tweet much about politics anymore, but I still try to represent the vegan view when I can. I also subscribe strongly to the "vote with your wallet" theory...rewarding and punishing company policies by buying or not buying whenever I can. I was genuinely excited when I saw both of those things from a sponsor. In each case I disclosed they were a BlogHer sponsor. In each case I wasn't paid to do so, nor was it part of some deal with them that I would do so.

Some might argue I shouldn't have tweeted anyway, because BlogHer collects money from these sponsors, and I am paid by BlogHer. But then I suppose a newspaper shouldn't review a movie who's production company advertises in their paper either, right?

The big issues, IMHO, are:

1. Disclosure. Meaning: You better haz it.

2. Context. Meaning: Is it at all authentic that the person would tweet about something? Is it at all relevant? To the writer? To their readers? I'm about to unfollow a tweeter who mostly tweets self-promotional stuff about her online business, not because her tweets aren't relevant to her and what she does, not because I don't think she sincerely is passionate about her business. But because it turns out not to be that relevant to me.

3. The church/state issue: You have to make a call on where you stand on the separation of church (editorial) and state (advertising/sponsorship). Do you think it's important to have actual physical demarcation between those two kinds of content you write/publish/support? If you do, better do it consistently, because you're setting expectations. (And might I add, it's those reader expectations that the FTC seems most concerned about.)

Here in the social media space, we all get to decide.

We get to decide what kind of publisher we want to be.
We get to decide which partners are the right partners, whose policies you can live with.
We get to decide who is worth keeping in our blog reader, in our twitter feed.

Will PPT Ruin Twitter?

Not my Twitter.

I feel the need to disclose that while reading this I was wearing a 15 year old tee shirt from Target, a pair of ratty capris from REI, and some uncomfortable clogs made by Merrell—purchased at a discount store. I went to the Eye Associates of New Mexico for my glasses, and my lip balm is by Burt's Bees. That about covers my product use for today. References available upon request.
You have the makings of an *excellent* blog spokeswoman, Virginia, that was very clear disclosure :)
Where do I start, Elisa? The post is exactly as you said: mega. :) I share your views and I think that sponsored reviews of any kind are OK as long as the reviewer expresses an unbiased opinion. How do we remain unbiased when we are being paid to review something? Well, that's the hard part, the art of being a citizen journalist - because let's face it, every time a journalist writes about anything, he doesn't do it out of the goodness of the heart, he does it for a reason. There are many forms of payment: money,gift coupons,products, fame, favors, and online even back links. Judging people for choosing any of the above before actually judging our own motivations is a bit hypocritical in my view. It's always good to discuss about such things, but it is not good to point fingers, because we really don't know what motivations are behind each action of an individual. The truth is that PPP and PPT are both part of the advertising age - very effective tools if used right. I found that advertisements are actually very helpful - especially those announcing new products from a brand I already trust (like the new Ariel for example). Like you, I also believe that the power to turn off the noise is in our hands. Would I do PPT? I don't think so. Would I recommend it to my clients? If proved effective, I would.
Thanks for the comment, Mihaela.

Re: forms of payment. Exactly... I find it ridiculous when some people on the marketing side of the equation gasp in horror at the idea at *hiring* a blogger to write an authentic review, but don't blink an eye at lavishing them with thousands of dollars worth of stuff, travels, boondoggle opportunities etc. Hello kettle? You're black.

Where we may differ is that I don't actually think I would recommend certain things to customers, even if they were legal and had short-term effectiveness. Not if I thought there was an equally or even more effective way that wouldn't have the same risk of backlash from readers, Google or the FTC :)
Right - that's why I have to wait first to see what really happens when IZEA starts the program. Hopefully it will be less annoying than Magpie. ;)
Nice article written.

Finance Bookmark
I love how you took my comment, which was mildly sarcastic and in response to someone else's comment, completely out of context and used it for your own benefit. Maybe next time provide a link to the tweet so people can seek it out for themselves?

(same comment, just forgot to click the subscribe to emails button)
It wasn't a tweet of yours, Jillian, it was a comment you made on the Mashable post. A link to that post is included right at the top, so i didn't feel obliged to link to every comment within it that I quoted. I totally agree that I hope people actually go read the conversation there.

But i have to say, if I misinterpreted you, why don't you share the proper interpretation? Obviously I didn't get it, and I doubt I'm the only one.

This is blogging, yes, you're going to get cited and quoted. The beauty part is you can clarify or expand or argue a point if you want to.

My main question for you is whether you think Twitter *ever* had purity?

That's a serious question, BTW, I'm curious if you think you are being forced to experience a different customer experience, or if it's just more work to create the customer experience you want, and that alone is sufficiently annoying?

Look forward to your further thoughts on that.
Aha, now that I see it, I remember. The person above me said: "I'd love to see Twitter remain pure, but that's just too much to ask. If there's money to be made, people are going to jump on the opportunity."

So no, as I put "purity" in quotes, I never found Twitter to be pure. Still, while you made the point that I ought to simply unfollow (trust me, I already unfollow anyone who participates in nonsense commercial memes), it's not simply about whose tweets I can see on a daily basis. It's the trending topics, polluted by junk like #moonfruit and other schemes, it's the media overreaction to Twitter "revolutions" (all of which, thus far, have been entirely fabricated)...

Regardless, my comment was a reaction to someone else's, and my intent was to say that I find Twitter marketing no less annoying than being bombarded by completely mindless tweets on the front page.

Personally, I use Tweetdeck and Mixero and filter out anything remotely irritating, thus customizing my own Twitter experience exactly how I want. Doesn't mean I can't complain.
Thanks Jillian. Yes, I complain all the time about things that don't really affect me personally...on principle...and people are free to call me a whiner ;)

Reviving this conversation is actually really well-timed. I'm supposed to write a post on BlogHer this week about various Twitter marketing approaches. Including Moonfruit. People have written some good pro and con posts on it, have you?

BlogHer decided to launch a BlogHerDeals twitter account where all our sponsor offers can go. The theory being it's completely opt in.

I'm curious to see what kind of comments I get about whether people think that's a good approach or just as spammy as any other.
People have written some good pro and con posts on it, have you?

I haven't - I've tried to limit my writing about Twitter to interpersonal and relationship topics, but I think I might just have to give that up!

As for BlogHer's approach, honestly, I think that's the way to go. #Moonfruit feels spammy and is nearly unavoidable (unless you filter out the tweets with Tweetdeck or Mixero!), but I follow a number of dedicated marketing accounts and have had great experiences doing so (my favorite is @UnitedAirlines, an airline I don't even fly regularly, because they offer cheap "twares" to their followers!)

The great thing about dedicated accounts is that, aside from retweets, they don't enter your feed if you don't want them to.
Thanks for the tip on @unitedairlines. i do fly them fairly regularly, so hopefully that will come in handy.

Yeah, two things you can't control: Retweets by choice (unless you're asking people to do them, which I don't like) and auto-re-tweeters (which I pretty much loathe).
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