How long did it take you to brainstorm the concept?
The initial idea came in a flash, back in December 2008: “Word of mouth advertising on steroids via recommendations by influential twitterers”
About a year before we all saw the controversial mess of Magpie… or at least, how much some people hated it. People were unfollowing anybody that had a #magpie hashtag in their tweets. I had no plan to get involved in this kind of thing.
But one weekend night in December 2008, I was working too late and had the idea of having twitterers write their own messages- creating a Twitter-based recommendation-engine, word of mouth advertising accelerated- that came to me in a flash. My idea was to create a situation that both tweeter and marketers would like, that was beneficial for both- the ROI in TweetROI means “return on influence”- the goal is for twitterers, their followers, and marketers ALL to benefit from these tweets. If anyone is getting left out, the system isn’t complete. But we’ve created a platform that’s like PPC for social media- and it can satisfy all those groups.
What was the most difficult thing about brainstorming and launching the new project?
I think the biggest problem was that this is a completely new form of systematized marketing – people have been marketing on Twitter, but creating a system that brings marketers and twitterers together? There are only a few companies that have tried to do it. I think of this as how the late 90’s were for pay per click. It’s the frontier right now. We’re monetizing real time social media and trying to do so without ruining conversations.
And we have a lot of different people to make happy, so there’s been a lot of brainstorming new solutions, programming, and testing to get everything to work. For example, twitterers want to be authentic and keep their followers, marketers want positive word of mouth, followers don’t want to get spammed, the FTC may want disclosure on every tweet, and so on. Getting functionality in place for all of that to happen has been arduous. Kevin McCallum, my cofounder and the lead programmer, deserves major kudos for his hard work and innovative code. But he likes a challenge
How is it different from Magpie?
The major differences are in control, authenticity, power, and flexibility. A few weeks ago, I would have said it’s that twitterers can control the message, so they’re not just giving over their tweetstream like Magpie asks you to. Being able to write your own recommendation and get paid creates more authenticity. But Magpie just added that, and IZEA’s sponsored tweets will have it too. It looks like we’re going to be in a feature race! We launched with other features like collaborative scheduling and a tweet approval process.
But what’s really unique about us is that Marketers can bid more for more influential twitterers. We do that via a proprietary system of four UserRank algorithms. You can bid for more reach, conversation, or viral effect.
We have more features planned for the future to make it even more like AdWords PPC and less like Magpie. But we have competitors too, so I don’t want to reveal all those plans just yet. I talked to a guy this week who was planning to spend $5 of a $60k social marketing project on Magpie, but he’s shifting at least $2k of that to us because “he likes where we’re going.” Any agency that does PPC and uses analytics is going to appreciate our approach.
Our focus is on quality and ROI. And our goal is to make all three parties happy: twitterers, their followers, and marketers. We think that’s the way to the greatest success for everyone.
What about the controversy of paid tweeting? How are you handling transparency?
We’ve spent a lot of time looking for the best solutions to make everyone happy there. First, I think some people will never be satisfied- some people believe that everyone who gets paid becomes inauthentic. To those people I say, well your boss pays you… has he or she made you less authentic? Look at your own heart. Contrary to what these people say, there are honest people who can recommend an offering on Twitter and get paid, and yes, they sleep just fine at night.
We also know that the FTC seems to have said that bloggers who are paid to do reviews should disclose that. Before we assume that will be applied to real-time media as well, I want to say I’m not sure that the FTC is being consistent across all media. Does the athlete on the Wheaties box disclose that they were paid? Does it say on the Wheaties box that the athlete was paid? Did Paul Harvey say he was being paid when he suddenly launched into a commercial during his radio program? Does Rush Limbaugh? It’s funny really- do we think that athlete actually eats Wheaties? Do we care? This is a larger discussion than just Twitter- it’s bigger than the internet too. But we’re not planning to fight the FTC, so…
We’re ready for disclosure in every tweet. I’m not sure if hashtags are adequate, but that’s all we have right now, and we only have 140 characters to work with anyway. So we have a hashtag #ROI that marketers can require- if a tweeter chooses a campaign like this, it goes in the tweet and the tweeter can’t take it out. If the marketer doesn’t require it, the tweeter can put it in, or any other hashtag they want, themselves. Some of them have used #ad.
We’ve created the functionality- now it’s up to the marketers and twitterers. And it will be interesting to see what the FTC has to say about paid disclosure in 140 character tweets, if they do comment on it.
Also, I want to note, we’ve been working hard to get non-profits involved. I worked with Tweetsgiving, One Day for Human Rights, and 12for12k and I’ve seen the generosity of twitterers- we wanted to provide a place for non-profits to get more exposure, so they can create unpaid TweetROI campaigns. twitterers can send out these tweets altruistically. I really hope that takes off. We’ve been talking to several including 12for12k and The Secure Student. One already has an active campaign, the Chicago Prostate Cancer Walk.
TweetROI is more than pay per tweet- it’s really a word of mouth messaging enabler. And money is not always involved.
Will this kill Twitter? What about spammers?
I don’t see how it could. Twitter is self-policing. You can unfollow anyone you want. If a tweeter using TweetROI annoys you, just unfollow them. You won’t see spammers saying anything unless you follow them. So that goes to basic good practice- don’t autofollow back every hot girl that follows you- they’re probably a spammer anyway. I’m a big believer in manually following people. Check out their tweetstream, and if all you see is ads, don’t follow them!
One of the great things about TweetROI is it amplifies that self-policing aspect of Twitter. twitterers get paid more for being more influential. If they lose followers, they lose influence, and they’re not going to get paid as much for their tweets. The money goes away, and so will they.
Is this really a good way for companies to market?
I think TweetROI is one of the missing pieces in social marketing. I can tell you the pain points for mid-sized and small businesses – because a lot of the social marketing success stories are about big brands with big money that already had momentum to leverage – I’ve done a lot of SEO and PPC work for the small and medium sized businesses, and when you think about how they could do social media marketing- the amount of time, expertise, planning it takes… Months and months go by and you’re still building your network, building relationships, replying to people, and you barely have gotten any ROI. It could take you a year to grow your network big enough to produce good ROI. Will you keep doing it and funding it for that long?
TweetROI lets you leapfrog over some of that growth curve. You can leverage the influence of people who already have followers and relationships. You can use that to get more followers, to brand yourself, to make an offer, or whatever your strategy is.
People are already talking about all kinds of things on Twitter and these people need what your business has. TweetROI gets these people talking about you, your product, your service, your website. Our marketers are already getting results. One marketer made a profit within his first six paid tweets. I think the affiliate marketers are going to eat this up- but we’ll be ready for Coke, Budweiser, and McDonald’s too.
Also, TweetROI is a great PR platform too. Only some of the campaigns will be direct marketing. You can also use it for branding, PR, and charities. I think one great use would be for Hollywood to get the word out in a big burst right before a movie’s opening weekend.
Is there anything different about marketing on Twitter than other channels?
Definitely. First- if you’re a company, it gets weird- who’s the voice of your profile? Is it one person or many? Or do you have multiple people on Twitter like Zappos or the Chicago Tribune? Or do you want to leverage many diverse voices via TweetROI?
Then, it’s people saying it. It’s not a PPC ad. It’s not a print ad. It’s not some person on TV. It’s a real person on Twitter talking to other real people on Twitter. That’s why we like the idea of customized recommendations creating word of mouth advertising on steroids. That means you can use your writing skills and your personality, but you can’t forget you’re having a conversation. You can write multiple ads as a marketer, just like PPC people test multiple ads on AdWords, and some will be more effective than others, but remember: you’re starting a conversation.
Everybody knows that traditional push advertising is losing effectiveness. People are going numb to advertising. And word of mouth advertising has always been the best kind. But people are seven times more likely to say something negative about a product to a friend than something positive. Bring the monetary reward into it evens that equation out. Now people have more of a reason to say something positive. I don’t think that’s going to drown out the negative if your offering really sucks. But it could help you if your problem is lack of awareness or lack of attention. More exposure, more conversation, more buzz.