Twitter still isn't showing interest in hunting down hard cash profits, but the ever-sneaky Huffington Post has worked out how it can profit from Twitter instead: By charging to embed Tweets into its blog comments. Genius? Or Generally nasty?
HuffPo isn't the first one to this idea—even sites like Techmeme thread links labeled "recent sponsor post" among the stream of stories that make up its usual business. But clearly Ariana Huffington has spotted two trends in Twitter that make it a neat match-up for the news aggregation in HuffPo: Twitter's growing userbase, and the way the system is increasingly being used by PR professionals for networking, client contacting, and news promotion.
Hence the new system, which lets marketing professional insert their 140-character Tweets into the reader comments on HuffPo blog entries, or into the Twitter feeds that augment the usual news pieces. And on the face of it, it seems a pretty neat idea—readers will get links and info to gain a little more insight on the topic under discussion from representatives of the companies or industries concerned, the PR folks can deliver their data in a very targeted way to a big audience, and HuffPo gets the revenue.
One cautionary flag must've popped up in your mind on reading this though, driven by HuffPo's previous less-than-savory business practices. Will this turn into a horrible, confusing mess of truths, opinions and PR-spun info that doesn't necessarily paint a realistic picture? Not if the blog clearly identifies paid Tweets, in a similar manner to Techmeme perhaps. And not if HuffPo's President Greg Coleman has anything to do with it—he's noted that "you cannot use the social engagement for the purposes of really hawking your products." Instead, the paid Tweets will only really work if they "add value" to the ongoing conversation.
That makes it sound pretty promising, and being part of the conversation is likely to be a more effective marketing tool than simply embedding a banner advert or roadblock ad—typically easy to ignore or avoid. But is there a bigger issue here? Will Twitter itself, since it's so very, very useful for one-to-many communications, turn into a PR fluff—laden nightmare, it's very purpose of friendly lifecasting messages subverted by how successful it is? We can hope not, and the real-time news aspects of the system are on the ascendant anyway, thanks to Google's high-profile tie-up for real-time searches.