What Is The Real Cost Of Trying To Make Money Online With Twitter?

The internet has a long-term interest (some would say obsession) with figuring out ways to make money online. Certainly, there’s a fascination with how much money the leading bloggers make from their publications, as well as how they do it, which includes anything from standard web advertising programs to affiliate links, sponsorship and paid content.

But using similar methods, can it be done on Twitter, too? And is this opportunity open to everybody, even an average guy, or is the real earning potential on the network reserved just for celebrities with millions of followers?

More importantly: does even attempting to make money on Twitter risk jeopardising your network and the trusted relationship with your followers that you have built over many months, or even years?

In this article, I’ll have a look at the different ways individuals are using Twitter to make money, weighing up the pros and cons along the way, as well as outlining my own experiences where relevant.

The Problem Of Free

Nobody that matters really objects to anybody earning a living, but there’s an expectation within social media (and even the internet) that everything should and needs to be given away freely, irrespective of the work involved or the quality of information and assistance received.

This is, of course, highly unfair, and there’s a valid argument to be made that if everybody was forced to give away all of their services and time for free then everything would just fall apart. Google can only price most of their tools at zero because Adwords, their flagship product, accounts for 99% of their revenue. Without their advertising income, they simply couldn’t afford to spend the time and resources – and give away – everything else.

But there’s an invisibility about Adwords that makes it easy for people to ignore. If you don’t use the service (or Adsense) and either turn a blind eye or use a blocker plugin to remove the bulk of online advertising from your browsing experience then you’ll likely go about your day with nary a thought towards web-based ads.

Pay-Per-Tweet

But what about tweet-based advertising? Two controversial websites have already had some success with this model – Magpie and Sponsored Tweets. Both provide Twitterers with the facility to earn a monthly income by inserting ads into their Twitter stream.

I’ve had a look at what’s involved and both sites make a big deal about ethics and give the user quite a lot of control about how much damage advertising is done within your account, and Sponsored Tweets in particular has picked up quite a few well-known faces, including such luminaries as Carrot Top and Traci Lords, as well as the inevitable John Chow. But they’ve also lured respectable folk like Chris Brogan, which I have to say both surprised and disappointed me.

Or am I being naïve and outdated? I mean, if it’s good enough for God, who I am to object? After all, I use Google Adsense and some other advertising models on my blog – what’s the difference?

I have to say, I’m a little on the fence on this one. It does sadden me a little to see some of the names who’ve signed up for pay-per-tweet models, but I’m also a realist and know that these same folks also give a ton of their wisdom and experience away for free. Why shouldn’t they earn a buck, too?

What’s important is that any and all ads that run through your stream are heavily vetted before publication. Blindly putting your name to anything for a dollar puts you amongst the lowest of the low.

Twitter Affiliate Programs

There are many ways one could use affiliate programs to earn revenue on Twitter, ranging from something familiar and trusted such as Amazon, to the slightly less legitimate marketing of membership sites, ‘make money’ programs, Twitter trains, and so on.

Affiliate programs are, in my opinion, one of the true curses of the internet. I’ve written previously about the value of so-called systems that are heavily promoted online – again, often by quite respectable bloggers and authors – and it’s worth re-visiting part of that article as a refresher:

None of these systems work. Not one. Here’s the scoop: nobody would sell a system that actually makes money. Nobody. Except a moron. No, the only reason they’re selling these ‘systems’ is because they don’t work or have stopped working.

Many will object – mostly, those who promote the systems – but this is reality. The only people who make money from systems and money-making ‘programs’ promoted via affiliate schemes are those who created and/or heavily promote the affiliate scheme itself.

To paraphrase my other piece, this is how they usually work:

  1. You will be taught how to make a ton of money by handing over a small sum of money now.
  2. You better hurry, though, as this offer is for the first X customers only.
  3. After this, it’ll be twice the price, but hey, that’s still really cheap!
  4. After that, we’re not going to sell it anymore. So buy NOW!
  5. Hey, we lied – you can still buy it, at ten times the original price! Guess what – it’s still a great deal!

Not forgetting, of course, the standard junk about worthless bonuses and privileged member’s access to a community of the equally gullible.

As for Amazon, I’ve sent out a few affiliate links on Twitter in the past. They’ve always been entirely relevant to something I’m talking about and my thinking has been if I’m going to link to a product I might as well use my Amazon account, too. The end result has always been the same: a few clicks, no purchases. If I had a million followers the outcome might have been different. But at least with Amazon you know what you’re getting – you’ll either buy the item, or you won’t, and either way you’re not being scammed.

As I said above, my issue with affiliate links is that a lot of them are to products and services that are just money-scraping cons and nothing more. And when a respectable name links to anything, they’re automatically adding their seal of approval. Their legitimacy passes on to that product, and their network, who have come to (often rightly) trust the things they say, then affords the same level of trust to that product, too.

Nobody cares when internet marketers are conning other, less savvy internet marketers, but when it’s regular people, it stinks. And when respectable folk collaborate to hype less-than-respectable services, that stinks even more.

Paid Reviews On Twitter

Another way you can make some money on Twitter is by offering your services as a paid reviewer. Somebody brings out a product, you get paid to review it, you share that review with your network, and everybody wins. Right?

Well, sometimes. The problem is most of the time companies aren’t really all that interested in paying somebody a lot of money to review something negatively. More often than not a paid review means a positive review. And even if it doesn’t, how are you supposed to know the difference?

For the reviewer, being paid to write about products sounds like a dream come true. (Especially the really pricey ones, as you can use an affiliate link there, too.) And for the marketer, finding a high-profile Twitter account who will happily wax lyrical about your useless but reassuringly expensive wares puts you on the express train to money town. For the end user, more often than not it’s just a con.

Here on Twittercism, I’ve written one review for a product I received for free, and that was for Shel Israel’s book, Twitterville. I enjoyed Twitterville, and recommended it, but if I’d have hated the book I would absolutely have said so. As it was, I made no money from that review, and even though I carried an Amazon link to the item on my sidebar for a while (now removed), I didn’t make any money from that, either.

Again, I don’t actually have any problem with reviews, paid or otherwise. But, call me crazy, I object slightly to the concept of raving about something that you know is garbage just because it came with an envelope stuffed full of money.

Conclusion

Because of a lack of filter control within Twitter, the only way to really remove tweets you don’t like from a given account is to unfollow that user. And it’s the most powerful action you can take on the network. And when one is considering using Twitter as a tool to earn revenue it’s also the most worrying.

However, if you’ve got hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of followers, and certainly if you’re a celebrity, the risk here is pretty minimal. Most of your followers are going to be fans, and most of them simply won’t care if you use your name to promote a product. Any product. In fact, they probably expect it.

The potential earnings for the Twitter celebrities or power-users are likely significant enough that losing a few thousand followers is nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s probably worth it, as it makes their network even more targeted. And we all know that’s the real goal.

But for the rest of us, the returns will be so insignificant that the real cost is simply far too high. My tip? Before you start blasting out ads, linking to affiliate schemes and doing as many paid reviews as your fingers can manage, wait until you get on the suggested user list. Then it doesn’t seem to matter what you do. You’ll still make a ton of money.