Mainstream Media <3 Sponsored Tweets

Last week, the Associated Press sent out a promoted tweet on behalf of Edelman, a public relations firm, to its 2.2 million followers. The tweet, which the AP labeled as “sponsored tweet,” links, coincidentally enough, to a report by a PR firm on the ethics of sponsored content.

In addition to the AP, publishers as diverse as People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Women’s Wear Daily and Slate have given sponsored social content a whirl in the interest of scratching up new revenue. It makes sense. With millions of followers, Twitter is a powerful distribution platform for them. Every little bit helps. The risk, of course, is user backlash.

“You won’t build a digital media business on selling sponsored tweets,” said Ken Detlet, the AP’s vp of digital advertising. “It’s a useful tool, when used tactfully, to promote meaningful content.”

Since January, the AP has tactfully promoted meaningful tweets from Honda, Acura, Samsung and Edelman and will continue to judiciously use sponsored tweets as an additional revenue source.

“We don’t see it as something to promote direct-response things like coupons or sales, but our best practice is to share some sort of trend or insight that’s meaningful,” Detlet said. “We’re looking for the best use of social media platforms.”

Slate, on the other hand, appears to have been slightly more aggressive with its sponsored tweets. There have been at least five sponsored tweets from a variety of Slate advertisers like the University of California, GE Capital and Dairy Good over the last month alone.

The online magazine will send out a sponsored tweet for an advertiser “if it works with Slate’s sensibility,” said Slate’s associate publisher, Anthony DeMaio. But the tweets, at first glance, do not appear to be very popular among Slate’s 630,000 followers on Twitter. The only replies to a GE Capital sponsored tweet, for example, were negative. Slate follower Will Kohl wrote, “I really don’t think a news/commentary organization should be doing this.” And Jim Brown tweeted back to Slate, “getting desperate to make money off @Twitter with these ‘sponsored tweets’?”

While DeMaio wouldn’t disclose the pricing for the sponsored tweets, he did say that it’s not where Slate makes its money. Slate, like the AP, places sponsored tweets in larger ad packages.

The Washington Post, boasting 1.8 million Twitter followers, also plans to start its own sponsored tweet program, according to Kevin Gentzel, the paper’s CRO. Like Slate and the AP, the paper sees no journalistic conflict in running tweets on behalf of advertisers, he told Digiday. “Like everything within the native advertising family tree, labeling and transparency is critical.”

Still, some publications, like the New York Times, won’t get into the sponsored tweets game any time soon. A spokesperson for the Times said that since the paper’s Twitter stream, which has 8.8 million, is run by the editorial department, and not marketing, it’s only used to distribute editorial content. If you find yourself longing for those sponsored Honda tweets, though, you can always follow the AP – or pick up the Sunday Times auto section.

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