…by Meg White
The place Meg puts the stuff she wrote
Will the “Twad” Change the Way We Tweet the World?
Categories: Copy, Social/New Media

BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White

Like most writers, I was suspicious of Twitter at first. Always wary of mandated brevity, expression in 140 characters or less struck me as an exercise in ridiculousness.

I soon found that Twitter had very little to do with the 140-character news peg the media trumpeted about it in the early days. It was a community of “tweeple” who — instead of e-mailing, messaging or posting — were having online conversions by “tweeting.”

Honestly, though, I probably wouldn’t have even started if it weren’t for my role at BuzzFlash. Turns out that Twitter is the perfect vehicle for BuzzFlash’s snark. Tweeple seem to really thrive on the same sarcasm and irreverence that BuzzFlash had been cultivating for ten years with our headlines and blog.

BuzzFlash’s Twitter persona has changed a little since it inception. We’re still the snarkiest kid on the news block, but now we have begun to do give-aways from the store as well as just plain begging for our very existence. However, these developments are a result of our sorry financial situation, and do not arise out of any desire to use Twitter as a revenue-generating machine. If you were broke and having a conversation with (several thousand of) your closest friends, you’d probably mention it too.

What you wouldn’t do is take money from a store in exchange for telling your closest friends to go shop there. That’s where the community breaks down, and friendship becomes a financial transaction. And that’s why tweeple are in an uproar over the latest attempts to monetize Twitter relationships.

The Huffington Post, The New York Times and the Austin American-Statesman have all recently announced ad-revenue schemes for their Twitter feed. I call these intrusions into the lives of ordinary tweeple “twads.”

(I think I coined that one, but in this age of the Internets, who knows? All I can say for certainty is it’s not on Urban Dictionary yet.)

Now, this isn’t really new. As I noted back in December in a piece on ads on progressive news sites, Huffington Post had already announced their decision to move forward with twadvertising. But it’s still unsettling as the delicate dance of negotiations go forward.

Though the methodology on the part of Huffington Post and The Times is a bit secretive currently (which may or may not be because companies aren’t really biting yet), the Austin paper has already tweeted on behalf of a local bar and a haunted house. Their regulations dictate that tweets identify themselves as an “(Ad)” and limit companies to two promo tweets a day.

Considering the whimsical, conversational nature of Twitter, it’s no surprise that Huffington Post would frame their decision to publish twads within the theme of conversations. From Poynter Online (emphasis mine):

Greg Coleman, president and chief revenue officer of The Huffington Post, said the site has just begun to approach advertisers about this. No advertisers have bought into it yet, but he expects some will soon.

“This offering is a way for advertisers to be a part of the conversation happening on the Web — not just bystanders to it — in a completely transparent way,” Coleman said. He explained that advertisers’ tweets and comments would be clearly labeled so that users know where the information is coming from.

The Huffington Post plans to train advertisers on how to interact with its followers when tweeting ads.

“The point is for advertisers to contribute to the dialogue. We’re confident that advertisers will understand that it’s also not in their interest to use these new means of engaging users as another way to ‘hawk’ products,” Coleman said. “Instead, it’s an exciting way for them to connect with potential consumers and to generate goodwill by adding something of value to the user experience.”

Such a formulation ignores a key component in Twitter: twust. Er, I mean “trust.” In online social media, people generally have the power to decide whom they’d like to “interact” with. In this case, they’ve decided to interact with The Huffington Post, not their advertisers. No matter how “transparent” HuffPo makes the tweet, the outcome remains akin to selling one’s e-mail list or otherwise hawking one’s friends to the highest bidder.

If tweeple want to figure out how to “How To Publish Your Own Book Online – And Make Money,” they’ll follow “TonyAlves” on Twitter. If tweeple want real progressive news, they might want to follow The Progressive Magazine or Bob Fertik, for example. And if they also want a snarky take on that news, maybe they’ll decide to follow us.

Along those same lines, tweeple who follow The Austin American-Statesman don’t necessarily also want to follow The Mansion of Terror. And HuffPo’s followers probably won’t want to follow Celebrity Cruises, Turbo Tax or any of their other current advertisers that may wish to spend some of that ad money on Twitter.

Granted, this is the idea behind blog advertising in general. That’s why BuzzFlash doesn’t accept advertising on our blog, news aggregation page or our user-driven site. As I’ve noted in the past, allowing an ad to appear on one’s blog gives readers a (subconscious or not) notion that you tacitly approve of the company in question:

While an ad on The Nation may not cause us to go out and buy the world a Coke, it certainly changes our impression of the company by association. One’s belief in the purity of one’s favorite blog works toward the whitewashing of those who advertise on said blog. There’s no doubt that, even if we are not absorbing the ad content itself, the mere appearance of “Coke” and “The Nation” on the same page causes our brain to associate the two…

Study after study after study reveals that online advertising works, even when we don’t click on the ad in question. As digital ads becomes more and more ambiguous, our brains have a harder time distinguishing between ads and editorial content when deciphering the flood of incoming cognitive traffic.

Coke is not stupid. These companies wouldn’t knowingly waste their money on ads that don’t work.

And that brings us back to the largely unknown implementation process. The American-Statesman’s rules make the whole thing sound rather unobtrusive. The fast-moving nature of Twitter means that the chances of seeing one of those two twads a day are pretty slim; and they are labeled, after all. But those restrictions may be why no one has taken the plunge on Huffington Post’s Twitter account.

Advertisers, while willing to gamble a little, won’t pay big bucks for ads that don’t work. And any online marketing novice can tell you it’s pretty damn easy to see what works on the Internet, at least in terms of the elusive “click-through.”

So, while twads may not be bugging you tweeple yet, if they have a dollar-value to advertisers, they’ll have to make an impact on The Tweeple as a whole. Because twadvertisers aren’t stupid, either.

BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS

Originally posted at BuzzFlash.com.

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