Tweets for Hire: Are Advertorial Content, Social Media a Good Match?


Back when I worked as the "lifestyle" editor for a small daily newspaper, I produced several advertorial sections a year, including a big one on brides and everything bridal. But that kind of marketing -- advertising with a thin veneer of editorial content -- is on its way out, right?


Now it's all about authenticity and the community and "conversations." That's why customer reviews have become a fixture of many retail Web sites. Yet advertorials haven't gone away. I'd say they're not only alive, but kicking. Witness the deal that Melanie Notkin, founder of the SavvyAuntie.com site, scored to promote a new anniversary release of Disney's "Pinocchio." As reported on the Wall Street Journal's Digits blog, she sent out a bunch of Tweets to her 7,000 followers on Twitter and wrote a blog post on SavvyAuntie as part of the three-week campaign, for which she received an undisclosed amount from Disney.


I have no problem with this. The Disney brand certainly seems to be a good match for SavvyAuntie.com, which specializes in offering advice to single professionals who want to connect with their nieces and nephews. As she writes in her post, Notkin made every effort to keep her Tweets "authentic," "honest," "transparent," "conversational" and "seamless." All of her sponsored Tweets featured a bit of shorthand so followers could clearly differentiate them from the non-sponsored ones. This is important. As a Forrester Research analyst quoted in the Wall Street Journal item said:


Both the marketer and the blogger must make it absolutely clear to the reader community that they are reading paid content. The blogger should have complete freedom to write in their own voice - even if the content they write about the brand is negative.


That's where some earlier online promotional efforts have failed. As Slate reported back in 2007, a division of Amazon called BookSurge.com that specialized in helping folks self-publish their books also sold them reviews (for $399) from romance author Ellen Tanner Marsh. In 2004, the New York Times revealed that many authors pseudonymously wrote rave reviews for their books. And according to Slate (again), publicists and others routinely solicit paid opinions from Amazon's top reviewers.


Isn't it more than a little naive to assume that all folks promoting products on Tweeter (and Facebook and other social media) will uphold Notkin's standards? How do you know someone on Twitter is actually who they claim to be? You don't, as I wrote back in August, highlighting Exxon Mobil's Twitter travails with someone who may or may not have worked for the company.


Still, from an advertiser's perspective, it's far easier to control a few folks like Notkin than it is to control "the crowd."


Perhaps not surprising for a Web entrepreneur, Notkin seems just as thrilled to serve as a "good case study" for observers of social media as a promoter of the DVD. I don't know what Disney paid Notkin. I am sure it wasn't nearly as much as it spends on more traditional advertising campaigns. But was it worth it? I share the opinion of Silicon Valley.com columnist Larry Magid, who wrote:


I'm still not convinced that Twitter adds value over other media. Radio added sound to news reporting, TV added pictures to radio and the Web added timeliness, frequency and depth to all of the above. But when it comes to the depth of the messages it can deliver, Twitter doesn't add anything other than the ability for people to grab messages quickly and respond in kind. But it's not as if everyone who responds to a New York Times tweet is reaching all New York Times readers or even Twitter followers. When you tweet, you only reach the people who have elected to follow you and, for most people, that's a pretty small number.


Magid is talking about news dissemination, not advertising. But I think some of the same points apply. Channels like Twitter seemingly offer value to advertisers that want to reach some kind of a highly targeted demographic. For those that want to cut a broader swathe, I'm not so sure. I guess the lesson here is that savvy companies now have to market their products and services in a lot more channels, all of which have their own idiosyncrancies. If you're a marketer, that's either exciting or overwhelming, depending on your perspective.