Once upon a time, it was sacrilege to offer up “Paid search results” as part of any search on the web. Go.com (then Overture -> then Yahoo! Performance Marketing -> Panama -> who cares), used to catch a lot of heat for these. But they made a lot of money. The industry has had a chance to mature, and people largely know the rules. As such, dozens of companies do it (Google has made hundreds of billions doing this with AdSense and AdWords, of course), and it’s “more” acceptable for a text ad to be prominently displayed than the “clutter” of dancing, moving, resetting banner ads.
So, how is monetizing social media any different? Well, first off, it’s the people. The biggest arguments against this is using people to deliver the message through sponsored Tweets/posts/etc. So, if the people have agreed to shill a product or service, why do we care? Do we feel like we fail to make the distinction between people we trust and people we don’t? If so, isn’t this a bigger problem than the fact that someone on our Twitter stream is shilling for some company for money? So, people become the delivery mechanism. To that I say, so what. It’s why commercial-free radio and television have subscription models. You don’t want to listen to the ads, opt out.
If the power of suggestion is such that we lose these filters – railing against paid Tweets may just be fruitless. From the moment the first 468 banner ads appeared on Wired and other sites in the mid 1990s, to the moment Google started their play with AdWords, making money with ads has been inevitable. And someone will get the formula right. But, they’ll have to play by some rules – written, or implicit.
So on to problem number two, which is defining the rules of the game. One of the biggest concerns is that there are no rules to this casino game right now. And instead of denying the fact that paid social is coming, because there are too many people with too much skin in the game for paid social to fail completely, we as marketers, but also as consumers, should focus on the rules, standards and “best practices” for how we want to interact with these. Because, like so much else in social/emerging media, there’s a different solution for each problem. Some users just may want to get these sorts of sponsored messages. Some don’t. But, the user should always have the choice to pick, right?
So how do we make the rules? Better filters? Yes. Calling out sponsored status? Yes. Standardizing context? Yes. Acceptance that some people WANT to be shills? Yes. But most importantly, the realization that we can, and should turn it off – absolutely. Because at the end of the day, if we don’t want to be an audience, we don’t have to be. Good grief there is no such filters that limits you when you play gaming slots online. And if the tools don’t allow us to do that we need to build better tools. If Twitter, at it’s heart, as I believe, is just people-powered RSS feeds that we can unsubscribe and subscribe to at anytime – how is this any different than the mechanical RSS feeds we subscribe to everyday – provided by content creators, choosing to share what they want to, and often with ads?
What do you think?