Paid Tweets Are for Fools Longing To Part from Their Money

Last Updated Jan 6, 2010 10:04 AM EST

Nat Ives at AdAge has a piece about news organizations considering whether to indulge in paid tweets. They see Kim Kardashian getting $10,000 to send a tweet out to her 2.8 million followers. Put aside the considerations of news ethics for a moment and focus on the people or companies paying for tweets. I'd argue, when you look at the numbers and consider the dangers, paying for tweets is an activity for idiots. This is another case of people, enamored of high tech, who don't think through what they're about to do.

Admittedly, on the surface the concept looks compelling. You have what seems to be a trusted source who regularly communicates with large numbers of consumers willing to pass on a commercial message at price ranges of $1 to $3 per thousand audience members. A bargain, eh? Nope.
  • Anyone who has used Twitter for longer than a few weeks knows that it's like sitting at the seashore and watching waves. Every few seconds, more stuff hits the screen. It quickly gets to the point that unless there's something compelling -- unless a given wave brings with it something unusual or interesting -- you let them wash into your field of vision on one side and out on the other. That's what tweets are like. Most people don't pay close attention to much of what comes in.
  • Anyone who admits to taking money to tweet a message on someone else's behalf has zero credibility. So much for being a trusted source. The Twitter successes like Dell (DELL) are delivering their own messages that people have signed up to hear. It's a completely different case.
  • If you're providing a link in a tweet, the common clickthrough rate is in the 1 to 4 percent range. Suddenly, only 28,000 of that 2.8 million actually see the message, and not just a mention of the message with virtually no details. Instead of paying maybe $8 per thousand viewers for a display ad on a web page, you're effectively paying $25 to $300 per unqualified thousand. Ouch.
  • The numbers in that last point are actually highly inflated because it's not as if all 2.8 million actually see your tweet. Only a fraction will, because people sign off and on at different times, do other things, and the message scrolls onto and off of the screen, just like that wave on the beach. Only, when the wave comes through, they're off getting hot dogs. If you're even getting a quarter of the audience for a given tweet, and I think that's optimistic, suddenly your cost per thousand is $100 to $1200. Double ouch.
  • Paid tweets have become a form of spam on Twitter and indulging can get you all manners of bad publicity.
So you spend money and get little if anything for it other than grief. But there will be a market because, as a friend of mine says by way of explaining the world, People Are Idiots.

Image courtesy Twitter.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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