Izea: Twick or Tweet?

The company behind the controversial marketing program that pays bloggers to write about products is preparing to move into Twitter.
Izea, formerly called Pay Per Post, is readying a Twitter ad platform called Sponsored Tweets that will offer Twitter users the option of sending their followers messages about brands and products. Twitterers will get paid based either on the number of clicks they receive or on a flat fee per Tweet.

Users will set their rates and Izea advertisers will select participants for their campaigns. Sponsored Tweets is set to launch in about a month, according to Ted Murphy, Izea’s CEO.
The program is a natural extension of the company’s effort to find new ways for advertisers to connect with customers, he said. Izea has run “sponsored conversations” for many brands, including a recent campaign for Sea World and another for K-Mart. In those instances, Izea advertisers pay for bloggers to create content about a product or service.
Izea is not without its critics, which assert that the company’s paid bloggers often do a poor job of disclosure. Julia Allison, an Internet celebrity of sorts, was heavily criticized for posting about Sea World without disclosing that her coverage was part of an Izea program. She subsequently updated her post to reflect that connection. The Federal Trade Commission recently set new guidelines for bloggers who endorse products for payment.
Murphy said the company is a lightening rod because it pioneered the space — and made mistakes along the way. As Pay Per Post, it had hazy disclosure rules. It has since tightened its standards, he said, and insists on full disclosure and audits bloggers for compliance.
“Our standards are higher than any word-of-mouth agency out there,” Murphy said.
While Izea’s programs with notable bloggers like Julia Allison and Chris Brogan have generated attention, the company’s focus remains on small-time bloggers with audiences of only a few hundred readers per month, Murphy said. That makes Twitter an ideal venue, particularly with its built-in viral appeal. Izea plans to expand into other social media platforms like YouTube.
Izea has already run a handful of Twitter advertising campaigns. Blockbuster is currently offering bloggers 68 cents per click in a promotion for its online movie service.

Those posts carry a #spon hash-tag in the messages. Izea plans to use the same system for campaigns run through Sponsored Tweets.
Izea is not the only company trying to build an ad network through Twitter. Magpie also offers users money to post messages to the microblogging service. Unlike Magpie, Izea is not asking users to post set messages, instead giving them freedom to promote in their own style.
The clear risk is that users will be turned off by ad messages entering their stream of updates. Murphy sees the network mostly self-policing that potential downside, because users will hold back on promoting products and services if doing so alienates their followers.

There is still a risk, he said, of too many sponsored messages: “The question is going to be how do you meter it to make sure it doesn’t get crazy.”