Tweet or Ad?

March 12th, 2013 by Dylan Leave a reply »

Yesterday I wrote about the #MyFoodBag twitroversy – my conclusion was that the small barrage of tweets about the new cook-it-yourself meal plan product were the result of a well executed product launch with a focus on social media. The product was put in the hands of people who would talk about it.

I have been thinking more about it – there was a insistence by some people still that it was all a little sleazy or sneaky, rather than being ‘genuine’ tweets (and Facebook updates) from the people involve. I think some people feel that the purity of their social media interactions have been abused.

It’s an easy thing to understand – the thing we value most, I think, with Twitter and Facebook is the genuine and unfiltered connection we have with our friends and followers. We exchange all manner of minute detail about our lives and shared experiences. The idea that those interactions have been manipulated (or, worst of all, bought) can be unnerving to say the least.

But is that what happened here with My Food Bag? Is it what happens with other tweets sent by people taking advantage of freebies? I think it comes down to context. In all the cases I’ve seen with My Food Bag the tweets involved people who, let’s be honest, are over-sharers. These are people who’ll tell us about all many of products and services they take use – the good, the bad, free and paid for.

I am like this myself – I have regularly praised and promoted various products and brands I use. I’ve also expressed disappointment and frustration with those same brands and products. It’s just the nature of my Twitter presence. If a company puts a product in my hand (one that suits and interests me) I’m going to tweet about it. They don’t have to ask, or suggest it. It will happen.

Some people criticise these tweets as not being balanced as they’d expect from a review, which is true. But they aren’t reviews, they are reports. The people involved will tweet their experiences as they happen. If the product is good and the PR or marketing people have done their jobs then the tweets will probably be mostly positive too – it should ideally be a good product in the hands of someone who will appreciate it.

Obviously, however, when you’ve been given something for free there is a tendency to feel grateful for it, but I don’t think we should assume that colours these social media interactions too much – as I said we should assume that it is a good product to start with, in the hands of someone who will appreciate it.

Ideally we need to trust the integrity of the people we’re interacting with – follow people who are a bit like you. Hopefully the PR people putting products in the hands of these influencers are being responsible too, and not putting anyone in a position where they feel compelled to betray their own integrity. Pick carefully, put the right products in the right hands – if someone tends to dislike the type of product you’re pushing don’t give it to the, or if you do you need to be really up front about it… “Hey @nzben we know you hate Android, maybe our new phone can change your mind? Up for it?”

Twitter and Facebook are the new “word of mouth” – the holy grail of advertising – it’s visible and accessible, a marketers dream, but it’s also a very personal medium and those marketers especially have an obligation to respect that.

As for the title – when is it an #ad? For me I think that line would be quite black and white, I think an explicit exchange is required – money or goods specifically in exchange for a tweet or tweets. In reality, in the NZ Twitterosphere I think that is probably uncommon to say the least. I certainly hope so.