5 tips on the delicate art of sponsored tweeting

“Tweet trouble as top celebs face crackdown” squawked the headline in a major newspaper’s media and marketing section. I wondered if Lady Gaga was telling her 7,8-million followers about the joys of ritually beating Azerbaijani folk dancers on the soles of their feet but no, as it turns out, various celebrities have offended their followers — and the British Office of Fair Trading — by tweeting about brands. This has given rise to speculation that they are being paid to endorse luxury products “in secret deals”.

As evidence, the piece offered tweets from Jonathan Ross (“Waiting for plane home! But had an awesome day at Universal Orlando!”) and Lily Allen (“Whoop whoop! Grey Goose in the house.”) Elizabeth Hurley was another of the celebs cited for suspicious tweeting. Hurley has been a face of Estee Lauder since the Pliocene era so I would have thought that it’s to be expected that she would blab about the brand on Twitter; nonetheless it appears that advertising is considered acceptable, but tweeting about the same product you promote on the inside front cover of Woman & Home is not.

I am intrigued by all of this because I am in a similar situation. Not that I’m a celebrity — good grief, even I have trouble distinguishing between myself and a bar of soap — but because I am involved with a social media campaign for the launch of the Range Rover Evoque. I grapple with these issues every day. Along with my fellow City Shapers, I have the use of a Freelander for a year, followed by the Evoque itself for another year. (Hey, some of us have to take one for the team.) Land Rover does not pay me to tweet about them in the conventional sense, but it is reasonable for them to expect that in the course of my tweeting — as well as my status updates and blog entries — I will mention the car in a positive light.

Now, this is something I would do regardless of whether I was specifically incentivised to tweet because, let’s face it, there are few things in life more pleasurable getting a new car, for a Joburger at least. As I wrote before I knew about the Range Rover campaign, “I’ve always been very anti the notion that cars should have any impact on the way we feel about ourselves – but I’m kidding myself if I think they don’t.”

Nonetheless, I am very aware of the sensitivities around talking about something when my readers know that I have a commercial relationship with a brand. The principle is much the same as if I were to write about a client, and if celebrities are criticised for branded tweeting, then bloggers are under even more pressure, since we’re supposed to be real, whatever that means (not that anybody is ever ‘real’ online — but more about that another time). In the digital realm, anonymous readers routinely use the comments facility to heap abuse on writers and promoting a brand can and does add grist to the mill.

So, how do you tweet about a brand without making people hate you – and the brand you’re talking about?

1. Be upfront.

If you have a commercial relationship with a brand, be open about it.

2. Be credible.

It helps if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about what you’re promoting. The brand should be integrated into your lifestyle, so that when you do tweet or blog about it, it comes across as natural and unforced.

3. Be yourself.

Yes, I know, Tiger Woods was being himself and look where that got his sponsors, but followers and fans can tell when somebody is adopting a different tone of voice in order to talk about a brand. You don’t want to sound like you’re spouting 140 character chunks of a press release.

4. Go easy on the name-dropping.

Once you’ve established an association with a brand, it becomes unnecessary to mention it at every opportunity. In fact, mentioning a brand can be counterproductive, and judging when to do it and when not is an art.

5. Finally, do not, I repeat, do not use exclamation marks unless you absolutely have to.

The exclamation mark is an immediate signal that a tweet or a status update has the unmistakable whiff of PR. Not that there’s anything wrong with PR, but it’s the kryptonite of social media credibility. See point 3.

Tweeting about brands is a bit like being a horse whisperer — your followers are skittish and liable to bolt at the least provocation. If you want to stay on this beast — to ruthlessly stretch the metaphor — best you have a feel for it. The rules of engagement have changed, fundamentally.



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