Paid brand conversations on the rise: transparency is a myth, money makes the social media world go round

Money A study from PQ Media has found that more brands are likely to compensate bloggers and social media users in an attempt to generate chatter about their products. The press release about the report doesn’t really say if in these practices clear and obvious links between the posts/tweets/whatever and the advertisers exist for the people who take the effort to tweet, buzz, share, bookmark, retweet, like or simply ‘read’ them.

Maybe the report tells more about it, but I don’t really feel like paying $1,295 to find out and I guess the relationships between the ‘social influencers’ and the brands that reward them are not always clear since PQ Media uses the word ‘controversial’. And, let’s face it, we all know business is business. 

Anyway, according to the press release such sponsored conversations grew to the tune of $46 million in 2009. A whopping 14 percent jump from the year before. However, this figure represents only a tiny chunk (2.7 percent) of the word-of-mouth marketing category, PQ Media says.

The firm now has made a forecast about social media sponsorship spending jumping to 26 percent this year to $56.8 million. Ot’s obvious: it will become a big chunk…

Compensating content creators and social media users with free products rather than cash still holds the ace. 

Non-cash sponsored conversation campaigns accounted for 78 percent of spending, with cash programs making up the rest. PQ observed that cash programs rose 37 percent in 2009, which it attributes to brands looking to reach specific influencers rather than focusing on large consumer sectors.

According to AdWeek, using services like Izea and that match up social media content creators with brands, paid post tactics and simply tweeting ads are used by celebs as well, often in sponsorhip agreements.

Money makes the world go round, the world go round, the world go round (sing it)

AdWeek wrote that several celebrities have included paid tweets in these sponsorship agreements. One of them, Kim Kardashian, who has a fan following of more than 3.5 million, has reportedly garnered $10,000 to update Twitter on behalf of advertisers. Well done, Kim.

Last year the Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines, which made it mandatory for content creators to disclose their “material connection” with advertisers.

However, PQ observes that these have not had any impact on the industry or its growth. On the contrary, it has supported the cause in many ways. 

Consumer packaged-goods companies are most active in the area, accounting for a quarter of spending, followed by food and beverage, health and beauty, media/entertainment and technology and telecommunications.

Of course there is a wide range of ‘paid brand conversations’. If a blogger is asked to review a product or service and does it in a transparent and open way, there are no issues. The risk for the advertiser then obviously is that the blogger in question might write a ‘negative’ review.

But isn’t there an old saying ‘bad publicity is also publicity’?

Value? What value?

Anyway, too bad that many brands still don’t (want to) see that they can become influencers and publishers themselves if they go full throttle for a social media strategy, letting their brand go in the process.

Letting go of your brand does not mean losing it. It means stopping to broadcast brand-centered messages and striving to offer valuable interactions and content, listening and being people-centric or customer-centric. It’s about being a trusted, human and valued partner. As I said before: your brand is NOT WHAT YOU WANT IT TO BE BUT WHAT PEOPLE DECIDE IT TO BE. Your brand is your employees, your customers and the value you offer, not the ads you distribute. Forget ‘positioning’, burn the book with the same name and offer value.

There is so much value to offer through good blogs, Twitter accounts, direct interactions, conversations, etc. And by offering value, a brand gets value back, both from the branding and the bottom-line perspective.

I guess paying or rewarding someone to create buzz creates a false sense of ‘keeping control over the brand’.

From my personal experience, I can add that even brands that have a very ‘open’ and social profile, engage in such tactics. Missed opportunities to become a trusted and valued online brand, applying old school tactics to a phenomenon that deserves more, broadcasting, back to square one.

But then again, who ever said that money stopped ruling the world and why should it be any different on social media?

Transparency in business is a myth, until further notice. Letting go of the brand to become a valued and human online brand as well.

“All marketers are liars”, Seth wrote. I guess many of them are not. But there are certainly a few scared ones that like to be in control.

J-P De Clerck is a
former online publisher, experienced interactive marketer and serial
blogger. He’s a 360° thinker and believes in people, peer-to-peer
and the power of content. He spends his spare time writing,
doing stuff with the kids and experimenting. You can connect with him via Twitter
or visit his new blog conversationspaces

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