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 twitter.grader.com 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 Tweets.com 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."