The Sponsored Tweets platform works by giving advertisers the ability to create campaigns and select, invite, and approve Twitterers of their choosing to participate in their sponsored campaigns. On the flip side, Twitterers can set their pay rate and find opportunities to tweet on behalf of advertisers and get paid per tweet and/or click.
Of course, IZEA’s attempting to cover the disclosure and ethics and portion with their Disclosure Engine software that automatically detects whether or not the appropriate hashtag or text is included. According to IZEA’s CEO, Ted Murphy, “disclosure is systematically enforced” and adheres to FTC and WOMMA guidelines.
This is the first substantive platform in what will undoubtedly become a crowded space. How prominent twitterers and their followers will respond to this is an unknown.
One of the issues it brings into focus is the difference between reputation and reach. People may be highly visible, but their opinions disregarded. Others will command strong respect for their opinions, however may not reach as broad an audience. In fact, selling influence need not impact credibility and reputation – it all depends on how it is done.
This is far from a new issue. Traditional media has largely lived on advertising. People have long known to interpret editorial and advertising content differently, and in the more reputable publications the distinction is always clear. The fact that the New York Times carries advertising doesn’t detract from how the quality of their journalism is perceived.
In exactly the same way, if sponsored tweets are clearly identified as such, there is no reason they should detract from the author’s credibility.
However, just as in traditional media, if the distinction between personal views and sponsored messages is not clear, reputation and very likely readership will erode. The reality is this applies to most people who are likely to use Sponsored Tweets.
In the bigger picture, influence and reputation are in the process of becoming economies in their own right. People can and should be able to make money from influence. There will be a wide variety increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for monetizing influence, all predicated on distinguishing sponsored messages from personal opinion.
The shape of this world is deeply uncertain as we cannot know how we will respond to this, but this is not very different from the traditional world of media we know today. US$450 billion is spent annually on advertising. Moving forward, part of that will go to individuals who have respect and influence.