#CantAfford4More: Are Promoted Tweets a Waste of Money?

Shock of the day: Twitter is a complex tool, and its mastery requires a bit of…nuance.

We recently reported on the company’s promoted hashtag service and its tendency to produce unpredictable results: When the Republican Party purchased the #areyoubetteroff tag to promote their National Convention back in September, the response got a little out of control—and supporters of President Obama ended up hijacking the thread. At one point, the “yes/no” response ratio was an embarrassing 5 to 1.

We have no doubt that any message promoted by the Obama team would have received plenty of mockery as well. The lesson we took from that debacle is that no campaign—and no company—can truly control the conversation on social media. Twitter is a bit of a crap shoot at the end of the day, and throwing a bone to a pack of howling wolves may not be a terribly effective messaging strategy.

But the Romney campaign didn’t agree, and they’ve made another attempt to drive the conversation ahead of tonight’s first debate by purchasing the #CantAfford4More hashtag for 24 hours–everyone who signs in to Twitter will see the tag in a tweet promoted by the candidate’s official feed. We assume that Romney will use the phrase during his monologue and encourage others to co-opt it. At the very least, this will get everyone talking, right?

Well, Liz Heron of The Wall Street Journal tweeted earlier that Obama supporters seemed to have hijacked the thread again—and while we’re not sure that the backlash is quite as overwhelming this time, a quick real-time click on the trending tag reveals a lot of mockery, a fair number of supportive re-tweets…and a whole lot of softcore porn spam (who clicks on that stuff anyway?).

The message here, once again, is that Twitter influence is a subtle art form that cannot be effectively controlled via blunt-force methods like promoted tweets.

But will these promos continue to sell? Are they really worth $120,000? Does anyone have an example of the strategy working?

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.