How can you tell that social media marketing (SMM) has hit critical mass? Try searching for the term on Google News. Stories about social media sites are everywhere.
Social media have been popular for the past few years, of course. The newest darling is Twitter. Newspaper readers in the Toronto area have been deluged by stories about the microblogging site in places like the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail. Now, apparently, even Oprah has started tweeting.
Seeing an opportunity to connect with the masses, companies recently began using Twitter as a social media marketing tool. This whole movement towards marketing on Twitter has had a real grassroots vibe. Companies that “get” SMM use their tweets to share interesting information with their followers, and their followers feel more connected to them. Relationships like this are of tremendous value to a company’s branding and image.
Some observers may dismiss Twitter marketing as opportunistic and self-serving. For some companies, it probably is. But I would wager that there are many who enjoy cultivating relationships through Twitter and who value the feedback they receive on Twitter and other social media sites.
Against this backdrop of mostly genuine motives, we have Magpie. What are we to make of this paid advertising tool?
Magpie and Social Media Marketing
Magpie, for those who haven’t heard, is a “pay per tweet” service. Like pay per click advertising, advertisers bid on keywords. The service then employs a “sophisticated algorithm” to select “key influencers” i.e. Twitterers whose tweets have used some of those keywords. Twitterers who agree to participate are then paid to send tweets that speak favourably of the advertiser.
It was really just a matter of time before someone came up with this method of monetizing Twitter (In fact, one of the key criticisms of Twitter, at least in the business press, is its lack of a clear strategy for converting the site’s popularity into cash.) But that does not mean the idea will catch on. In fact, there has been quite a negative buzz about Magpie. Why?
The whole point of Twitter – indeed of social media marketing – is to earn positive reviews, not buy them. Yes, there are paid ads on Facebook, but at least you know you are being advertised to. According to some reports, like recent ones on accuracast.com and econsultancy.com, Magpie-Twitterers are not necessarily disclosing that they have been paid to praise a company. Their affiliate links are being posted as “testimonials” not ads, which implies that the Twitterer has at least used and liked the product/service being tweeted about.
The Message for Social Media Marketers
There is a clear message in all of the concerns being raised about Magpie. Before you start marketing with Twitter or any other social media site, learn the culture. See how other companies are handling their social media marketing before you jump in with both feet. Misreading the culture by, for example, buying testimonial tweets, could do you more harm than good.