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IZEA Calls for Transparency, but Can Twitter Remain Pure? Ted Murphy Thinks So

Like the old pitch for Ivory Soap, Twitter remains 99 and 5/8% pure. A recent purge eliminated thousands of spammers and bots, and so far none of the upstart advertising services have managed to take hold. Not even Ashton Kutcher—despite his avid use and 3 million+ following—can turn 140 characters (or a twitpic of his wife's ass) into gold. But Izea, which connects sponsors with Twitter users on a pay-per-Tweet basis, could change that.

Sponsored Tweets, an advertising program that IZEA officially launched yesterday, is seeking a piece of that oh-so-tweet pie (word-of-mouth marketing is now a $1.5 billion industry). In a transparent and ethical kind of way, of course. So says Ted Murphy, the CEO and founder of IZEA, who earnestly believes that with its built-in engine of filters and checks this "new marketplace" is going to be a more perfect union between advertisers and popular tweeters.

According to a company statement, "the site provides cash compensation to Tweeters in exchange for sharing messages with their followers." So how much is a tweet worth?

Murphy says a potential user simply has to plug in his or her Twitter account and Sponsored Tweets runs through a protocol of analytics that determines a price per tweet based on number of followers, a rating, and other criteria.

Jessica Gottlieb, a mommy blogger and early adopter (she signed up before the site went officially live) says she filled out the application and took their suggested price. With over 9,000 followers and a pretty active time-line, Gottlieb's tweets are worth just over $22. "I don't know if that is exorbitant or the best bargain around," she laughs. (With just over 2,100 followers and about ten tweets a day, mine are worth a paltry $3.15).

"There isn't a formula for setting price. But then, how could there be?" asks Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs and a member of IZEA's advisory committee. "The formulas that exist in modern advertising were just made up at one point, and then perfected as time went on," he says. Though he can't definitively comment on the process because he was not in that meeting, he will say that the thinking behind it was, "Based on other media. A 'what will the market bear' kind of thing."

There is the potential to increase revenue based on the number of click-throughs, says Murphy. That price is a fraction of the per-tweet cost. (Mine = fifteen cents.) To watch traffic, "We give the tweeters unique URLs and track clicks through Google analytics," says Murphy. They use the same tools available to anyone; no technology has been created especially for this endeavor. "It's a simple integration with Web-tracking tools," he says.

But simple is where it's at for Sponsored Tweets. It's easy for anyone to sign up, and easy for an advertiser to quickly get "the whole picture" of a potential paid tweeter.

Murphy says that simplicity lends itself to transparency, which is paramount to the success of the whole enterprise. "It is the biggest issue with Magpie," Murphy explains. Magpie, a Twitter advertising network, works on a similar principle of pay-per-tweet, but Murphy points out, "they are a closed service with auto-generated ads," providing no relevant content.

"I've never seen a reputable brand on Magpie," he adds, and counters that Sponsored does "everything by choice. Advertising is all manually approved."

Everything passes through Twitter's OAuth process, protecting the users' passwords. A short video demonstrates how approvals are done. There is even a section for advertisers to educate them on what they can and can't ask of a tweeters' content.

Just because it is manual doesn't mean it's slow. During just one day of operations, Murphy says the service expanded its reach to 10 million twitter timelines, and seen interest from celebrities and advertisers. Due to contractual obligations, Murphy says he can't name everyone, but he's already snagged some "Web celebs" such as Elle of YouTube "All That Glitters 21" fame and singer/songwriter Ernie Halter.

Murphy also alludes to the fact that some celebrities are already cashing in for casual tweets about products. "The reality is it is already happening. We want to bring more structure and bring it above-board." Sponsored Tweets demands 100 percent disclosure.

"If you paid money for any part of the relationship, even if that money is in dispensing of products for review or the like, disclose it," advises Brogan in a recent blog post. "Keep a disclosure section alive and well anywhere that these experiences take place. Is there more to it than that?"

Sponsored tweeting has its critics, namely Alan Wolk, creative strategist and founder of The Toad Stool. A 20-year veteran of the advertising industry, Wolk is not convinced that pay-per-tweet advertising is going to work. "We sort of accept that celebrities don't like many of the products they advertise." And while he believes one tweet a month might be acceptable from the likes of Ashton Kutcher (and worth a $10K price tag) more than that is too much. "When original content turns into an ad you turn more people off than you gain," he says.

Another veteran of marketing and branding, Olivier Blanchard, is not so sure. As a brand strategist, the owner of The Brand Builder engaged in a tweeted debate with several of his followers about IZEA. "That's where social works, I think: if you already know that I love Nutella, and I already tweet about it, it can work. I know I wouldn't abuse it, but many folks would assume I have sold out. I don't want that."

For Jessica Gottlieb, it is simple. "Writing [to get a free] bottle of shampoo is skeevy. Writing for a paycheck is smart. Even in 140 characters."

Related Stories:
What Is Twitter? Apparently, No One Knows
Would You Twitter If Your Tweet Carried a $50,000 Price Tag?


Add New Comment


  • Lydia Dishman

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment and for the props!

    As for 1000s of articles, yes there are many on SM and some on Sponsored Tweets. As they had just announced their service, the timeliness played a huge factor in the amount of coverage they received. My objective was to report what others had not: how the platform would work from Ted's perspective, what a user's experience was like, and any critique.

    The playing field is growing and changing with the presence of your company and the emergence of others. I feel fortunate to be able to watch it all evolve.

  • Andy Arnott

    We were before ST, and we think that we have a better business model. Sponsored Tweets has gotten a lot of attention, which is not a surprise coming from an "insider" company, but we will continue to innovate and lead the change for making Twitter a better place with responsible advertising from great advertisers.

    We may not have an army of PR people, but we think our idea will catch starting with the users, and building on that. I'm hoping that one day the mainstream media will cover companies outside the fringe, and not ones being hand fed to them by the "establishment". There are 1000 other articles on Sponsored Tweets... yawn!

    Lydia, this was an awesome, well written piece... but I beg of you to detach from the news borg and cover something different. Happy Wednesday!


  • Freddy Nager

    Michael, how much did you get paid for that comment?

    "People want to be sold to"? Which people, and where can I and all the other businesses in America find them? Don't hog 'em all to yourself!

    Click-through rates on banners are now under one-half of one percent. Pray tell, if "people do click on the ads," what's the CTR for Tweets? C'mon, let's be real about this.

  • Michael Murdock

    IZEA is doing a nice job with their system. Personally I can't wait for more advertisers to join their program. It's wonderful to see their tweets come in via direct message and the offerings as well. They offer flexibility in their program and let's be real about this, people do click on the ads. People want to be sold to and they want to be sold to by people they connect with at some level.

    There are tons of people on twitter advertising crap, but when you see something good or a tweet that captures your attention, you're bound to click it, especially if it comes from someone you've connected with. When I first started using IZEA's system I thought nobody will click on these ads, they're just like the rest. WRONG.

    So it's great that TED and the gang there have come up with a way to entice people to click on ads and it's also nice that some advertisers have seen this and are putting money through the channels to promote their products.

    And there's another story that asks if I'd tweet if my tweet carried a $50,000 price tag...heck yes, because it that was per view, I've got 6,000+ followers that might click on it and that's a nice retirement check just waiting to come to me :)

    Michael Murdock, CEO
    DocMurdock - Internet Business Consulting

  • Freddy Nager

    Let's see, Twitter already has a dropout rate of 60%. With ideas like tweetvertising, we can make it even higher! Shall we go for 70%? Do I hear 80?