Guest post by Ted Murphy, CEO, IZEA

...The Same Old Common Sense Rules Apply.

If you've never heard of sponsored tweets before, you certainly have now. Over the past month, sponsored tweets have commanded significant news time. First, the new FTC guidelines that went into effect last December have reverberated throughout the marketing world and blogosphere. Since then there has been a handful of controversies surrounding Twitter, high profile celebrities, and proper disclosure of sponsored relationships.

Paying for tweets is a provocative topic, stirring up opinions and misconceptions from all sides. But before we rush to judgment, let's start from the basic premise—celebrities and endorsements go hand in hand; they always have, whether in print media, TV, or the Internet. And we, as fans, form emotional connections with our favorite celebrities—and are interested in their choice of golf club, moisturizer, jeans, restaurant, iPhone app…

Now as sponsorships traverse across the evolving media landscape into blogs and tweets, powerful new opportunities emerge for marketers and brands. This new realm is an ideal chance for smaller brands to connect with celebrities through what I call "micro-sponsorships." This opens up the world of celebrity sponsors to a much broader array of businesses. As a small brand, it would be nearly impossible for you to afford a large endorsement deal with a well-known celebrity, which can cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars and involve contracts, agents, negotiation, etc.

Micro-sponsorships also create opportunity on both sides of the table, offering celebrities a wider range of options. A celebrity can now sponsor a small website, iPhone app or product because the traditional process of sponsorships has shifted. There's a chance to drive buzz and connect with audiences in arguably far more targeted and effective ways than ever before. Of course, that's only if we do it right.

There's already been considerable discussion about the FTC ruling and compliance and I'll just sum up my thoughts in three simple words: disclose, disclose, disclose. In any grey areas, err on the side of transparency. And most importantly, as marketers, consider it your responsibility to educate and audit your celebrity sponsors.

Create clear guidelines for all your sponsors (whether via Twitter or blog posts) and spell everything out right up front in the contract. Create a code of ethics and specify exactly how disclosure should be presented—because when we're dealing with a meager 140 characters, it can get tough…

It's not just about the FTC
Throughout the process, it's a mistake to view your work on disclosure through the narrow prism of avoiding the wrath of FTC. In truth, honesty and transparency in communication are going to be critical components to ensure the success of your own campaigns, as well as the industry as a whole.

As you begin to navigate the waters of social media and sponsored social media, keep in mind the following common sense advice.

1. Honesty: Celebrity sponsorships and tweets work because these individuals have built up a relationship of trust with their fans and audience. Protect that trust by openly disclosing any paid or sponsored relationship. Only a handful of fans or followers will raise an eyebrow when seeing a tweet or two that are openly and honestly disclosed as sponsored (i.e. with an "#ad" at the end of the tweet or 'can't wait for my sponsor's new x that's coming out next week!!!'). However, expect serious backlash against both celebrity and brand if an undisclosed relationship is exposed and fans feel they are being duped.

Along these lines, avoid false claims—don't call something red if it's blue. This should also be spelled out in the contract, to prevent over-zealous celebrities from trying a little too hard to make a case for your product.

2. Relevancy: As with any form of marketing, sponsored tweets only work if they are relevant. Don't just find any celebrity you can afford. Carefully match your brand and/or product to the individual, their audience, and interests. That's what makes the difference between value and noise.

With its specialized networks and niche communities, the Internet (and social media in particular) gives you unprecedented ability to deliver your message to targeted groups who are truly interested in what you're offering. To reach this coveted 'long tail', you should consider big name celebrities that align with your brand, as well as smaller niche celebrities (or social media rock stars) who may not have the same name recognition or number of followers, but who have an enormous amount of influence and respect among their audience. For example, a maker of construction equipment or tools should consider Bob Villa, in addition to Bob, the local contractor in Iowa who's been developing a loyal following of fellow contractors by posting daily tips and advice.

3. Restraint: Similar to the idea of relevancy above, make sure your spokespeople are not bombarding their audience with ads—including both your own content and that from other brands. Many contracts set guidelines and limits for the maximum number of sponsored messages within a given period.

Why sponsored conversations make sense (and cents)
Sponsored Tweets can be done properly. You should not let the minor concerns deter you from a great new opportunity. Twitter is a new vehicle for driving Word-of-Mouth marketing. The platform and its participants allow you to reach the exact people who want your products from people they trust. These campaigns are highly scalable and are directly measurable (always a bonus in the constant struggle to prove ROI to the corner offices). And in many cases, these micro-sponsorships will be the only way small to mid-sized brands could ever dream of matching themselves with a celebrity.

Yet, as we're breaking new ground in social media, it's going to be especially important to know the rules, and apply the same common sense guidelines that apply to all word of mouth marketing—set high ethical standards, and strive for transparency and honesty in all communications.

About Ted Murphy:
A serial entrepreneur, Edward "Ted" Murphy has founded six companies since 1994. Murphy's latest venture, IZEA operates a variety of social media properties including SocialSpark and SponsoredTweets, and is the world's largest Consumer Generated Advertising Network. Founded in June of 2006, IZEA has raised over $10 million in venture funding from leading venture capitalists including Draper Fischer Jurvetson. The network has attracted over 350,000 publishers and 30,000 advertisers and continues to grow. Murphy's creative prowess and passion for the unconventional has earned him the ear of some of the world's largest marketing organizations including FOX, Bombardier, General Motors, SeaWorld, and Disney. Murphy is a prominent visionary, speaking and presenting to marketing and Internet professionals around the world. His efforts have received international recognition from media outlets including CNBC, Wired, USA Today, ABC News, Forbes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Business Week, PC World, CNN Money, Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Business 2.0 and others.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Ann Handley

Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author who speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. She is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, dog person, and writer.