Pay-Per-Tweet: An Experiment In Twitter-nomics

by Jason Falls |

I joked via Twitter Sunday evening that my 2,000th tweet (Yes, that’s what we call it and yes, it’s ridiculous.) was upcoming and for a mere $5.00 sent to my PayPal account, I would pimp your wares. Part of the reason I use Twitter is to bring a smile to people’s faces with my odd-ball sense of humor sometimes, so I figured I’d get a laugh or two.

[flickr align=”left”]photo:61056391[/flickr]Then someone took me up on it. Turns out @metromapper, A/K/A Michael Schnuerle, reached out and said he would take me up on the offer because Monday was the last day of the NetSquared Mashup Challenge and with a few more votes, he may make the top 20 projects. (They’ll be announced tomorrow. Good luck, Michael!) Those winners are invited to a conference where both interest and funding could be found. In an initial round of voting, Michael’s Your Mapper finished fifth out of 122 projects from around the globe.

MetroMapperTM, a Louisville-based service, serves as a test market for the overall Your Mapper project. From the website:

Metro Mapper is an online news organization that provides interactive maps for the Louisville Metro area, Kentucky, and the nation. Our desire is that residents and visitors will become more familiar with their neighborhoods, streets, and locations.

It currently has maps with overlays of crime reports, registered sex offenders, health reports for restaurants, homes for sale and more. It’s a handy resource of information about neighborhoods both near and far. (There’s one registered sex offender on my street, but several blocks away. Good to know.)

Your Mapper is an aggressive project aimed at taking that model to every community. From the project descrption page on NetSquared’s site:

Three major empowering things would be improved in the world if this project happens.

One: Empowering local public citizens to learn about their neighborhood and take action when they identify a need. Citizens can view interesting things happening around their home and office on a map, and get notified when new things happen.

Two: Empowering local people to collect information that is currently locked up in government databases, and use our toolset to load that data and make it geographically and visually accessible to the public.

Three: Empowering local websites, blogs, news organizations, and companies by allowing them to embed searchable, interactive maps on their site as a service to their site audience.

Your Mapper is an online news organization that empowers people to obtain and load information in their home town, and make it available to their neighbors. We provide the tools that make this happen.

Having met Michael earlier in the week at our local Social Media Club chapter meeting and having an interest in local project, I thought, “If it will help this project get in front of some funding possibilities, I’ll most definitely Tweet the contest.” (And yes, before I did, I went and voted my ownself. You were able to pick other worthy projects as well – 10 total – so there was a lot of potential social good to do by participating.)

And so, I sold my 2,000th Tweet. Fully aware I was selling a Twitter entry and would, thus, be advertising to my followers there, I built up several preceding tweets to explain it all. I couldn’t betray the trust of my friends by not being transparent of what I was doing. I also knew this would make for a good case study for the blog and fully intended from the start to poll my followers and see what they thought of me selling the right to talk to them via this social media tool. That said, lack of transparency would have led to a public crucifiction of yours truly. Not it!

And so, PayPal payment received, here are some selected Tweets leading up to 2,000:

JasonFalls So I’ve got my 2000th tweet upcoming today and it’s been sponsored by a cool social good project. I’ll tell more through the day. Head’s up.

JasonFalls The Tweet will be a link to a page asking you to login and vote for a social media-based project in a grant/funding competition.

JasonFalls And while I’d love for you to vote for the project that leads you there, you can vote for up to 10 — all fantastic social good projects.

JasonFalls So with my 2000th tweet, I’m asking each of you to take a few brief minutes to vote for some great ideas that will help improve our world.

JasonFalls Okay, the 2000th tweet is next. Please take a moment to click through, consider socially-valuable mashup ideas and help them get funded

JasonFalls Vote for Metro Mapper in the NetSquared mashup contest, today (Monday) only! http://www.metromapper.org/… (Sponsored Tweet)

Late Monday night, I decided to ask my community of friends their thoughts on what I had done. I asked them what they thought of a sponsored Tweet, whether or not the social good cause behind made a difference and so on. A sampling (Edited for space, not for content, but note that @jonburg’s Tweet was a reply to @ScottMonty and me.):

shey @JasonFalls Twitter is one of few places (so far) that we can get away from advertising — i’m not for it no matter what the agenda

__nateritter @JasonFalls I’m ok with selling your tweet for advertising, as long as you’re transparent about it.

ericeggertson @JasonFalls: Selling your 2000th Tweet for $5.00 is more of a lark than an egregious breech of etiquette. If you sold every 5th Tweet…

OracleJulio @JasonFalls so where is the Twet? I see nothing wrong with you selling it, regardless of the cause. U are the publisher and I’m the reader

WarrenWhitlock @JasonFalls marketing today is all about being authentic. (learn to fake that and you can fake anything). just be honest and open

earwood @jasonfalls I think you’re completely within your rights to get a sponsored tweet AND you disclosed it. You’re good.

remarkablogger @JasonFalls Everybody’s got diff. ideas of what’s a good cause. Ppl think themselves are a good cause. Still, I thought it was cool.

JonBurg @scottmonty, @JasonFalls – interruptive paid messages pollute Twitter. shills for cash are never acceptable. Occasional real advocacy is totally ok. Transparency on twitter is sticky.

ScottMonty @JasonFalls Nothing wrong with selling a tweet if you’re honest about it. Even better = yours was a good cause. You shoulda gotten >$ …

rslux @JasonFalls As a disclosed one-off, it’s no big deal, but if you sold Tweets regularly or without disclosure it would be evil and spammy.

nateritter @JasonFalls I’m ok with selling your tweet for advertising, as long as you’re transparent about it.

darrindickey @JasonFalls You know what? It’s your tweet and it didn’t offend me at all. You can do what you wish with them and I don’t have to follow. If I don’t like it. But it didn’t bother me in the least.

newmediajim @JasonFalls you got $5 for your 2000th tweet?? atta boy! ;-)

As with previous pollings, there are no hard, fast rules surfacing from the community reaction. It’s worth noting the acceptance of my actions seems to indicate such because A) I don’t do it often and this was isolated and B) The social goodness intended somehow makes it less of the snake oil ilk. I was applauded for transparency and, sans Mr. Burg and @shey, no one seemed bothered by it. It’s also fair to note I noticed no followers dropping me in protest, either.

Still, if I were to continue to sell Tweets, my guess is the tone of the responses would change. To @shey’s point, Twitter isn’t really a place where advertising is all that kosher. Yet, as Scott Monty pointed out in an off-line conversation Monday, @DellOutlet, @hrblock and others are there, too. And, while behaving within the appropriate confines of the community, they are ultimately there to market to consumers, or at least keep tabs on them.

My pursuit of the sponsored tweet was a joke that turned into an experiment. My hope is this post will generate continued discussion among the social media community of sponsorship, advertising and where the line should be drawn, not just with regards to Twitter, but other networks and tools as well. Are Chris Heuer’s airport Utterz more likely to be skipped if they’re brought to you by Swiss luggage? Robert Scoble’s shows are, to a certain degree, Seagate billboards, but what if a no-namer (say … me) slapped up a billboard ad on my little SME-TV interviews?

Advertising will always be a part of our existences, on-line and off. However, where does it fit in our social media life?

And because I believe in the economy of free and the because effect of Doc Searls, I can’t feel good about taking Michael’s money for my 2,000th tweet. I would have Tweeted it without the payment. Instead, I’ll not only return Michael’s $5.00, but add my own in a donation to the Frozen Pea Fund.

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. Is Twitter About To Have A Big Spam Problem?
  2. 5 Tips To Selling Sponsorships In Web Videos
  3. 12 Sponsored Reviews Blog Monetization Tips
  4. Creating Barriers Between You And Your Readers
  5. Reading Minds: Neuro Persuasion

IMAGE:Money!” by Tracy Olson on Flickr.

[tags]Twitter, sponsorship, advertising, marketing, ethics[/tags]

About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).