It sounds a bit like a late-night infomercial. “You too can make money on Twitter! Just follow this simple plan . . . ”
And it’s true. As a company, Twitter has yet to turn a profit, but thanks to a proliferation of third-party services offering cash for sponsored tweets, the microblogging platform’s users can. In what is essentially a brokering of “Your Tweet Here” ad space, anyone with a Twitter handle can cash in on his or her followers via services like MyLikes, IZEA, Ad.ly, Twittad, or twtMob, which provide variations on a pay-per-click theme. Word of mouth is officially a tangible currency.
Until recently, shilling for brands on Twitter largely remained in the realm of celebrities. Services like Ad.ly, which connects brands and celebs, offers more than 1,000 celebrities from Snooki to Mariah Carey (and also strangely, Time.com). But regular old Twitter users with small-to-average follower counts are just as eager to try their hand at shilling. And a trusted friend’s recommendation is powerful. Most of Kourtney Kardashian’s followers realize she’s being paid for that 1-800-Flowers shout out. But your co-worker tweeting about a discounted flight on Virgin America? That’s different. “The reach per person is much smaller, but the people you reach and the quality of that recommendation is much higher,” said Leif Abraham, co-founder of creative shop Innovative Thunder. (Disclosure is naturally an issue; most services avoid FTC wrath with sponsorship-identifying links.)
The risk to advertisers is minimal. In many cases, they only pay when their sponsored tweets deliver click-throughs, priced at $0.05 per tweet on Twittad, for example. MyLikes, which provides users with the text and link based on pre-selected interests, had amassed 200,000 users as of February. Of course, Twitter itself, which offers Promoted Tweets, has the upper hand on volume; last week in a state of the company address, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo revealed its active user count—100 million—and daily tweet count—230 million—which is a 110 percent increase over last year.
Regardless of platform—Twitter approved or third party—the branded conversation is popular with advertisers: Almost 40 percent of them have sponsored a tweet, according to a survey published in August by eMarketer.
And in an ironic twist, an inverse service which allows users to pay brands in tweets, was invented by an ad agency—Abraham’s Innovative Thunder, which won a Cannes Lions Grand Prix for “Pay With a Tweet,” a “buy this” button that allows bands, book writers, and even bars to distribute products (mostly of the digital variety) in exchange for a Twitter mention. It’s been adopted by the likes of Microsoft, major record labels, and even Mitt Romney.
“In a world where everyone has their own media channel, every one of them has a monetary value,” Abraham said.