Is tweeting profitable?

The Next Web reportedly recently paid Paris Hilton US$3 000 for a sponsored tweet and while sponsored tweets are nothing new, we’ve got to wonder how profitable Twitter is both for itself and its users.

Barack Obama has often used Twitter to broadcast his feelings on certain topics like tax (#40dollars) and the debt-ceiling (#Compromise) and, as a result, has also used it to drum up support for his re-election in 2012 — so it clearly has a role to play in how prominent businesses and individuals engage with their followers, but what about pure ROI and at what cost?

The Next Web’s experiment of buying a tweet from Paris Hilton showed some interesting results:

According to Google Analytics, the tweet brought in 2 652 visits, with 75% of them being new, and 85% of those visits bouncing. Given that it was more new visits than usual, we were surprised to see that the bounce rate stayed roughly the same.

Seventy-five percent of new visits are one thing, but an 85% bounce rate is extremely high. Think of bounce rate this way: if 8 out of 10 people that came to your night club got bounced, the dance floor would be empty and the barmen would be bored — that is, unless there is a massive queue of people waiting outside that are eager to get in; the same goes for your website, if eight out of 10 people leave, that’s a lot of either wasted or irrelevant business. If we consider that the 15%, who stayed on The Next Web’s conference site, went onto buy a ticket, then the tweet can be seen to be worth it.

While celebrities have every right to earn a living, some Twitter users are starting to ask “at what cost”. Mars Chocolate Bars have recently come under scrutiny for getting Rio Ferdinand and Katie Price to do a range of tweets wherein they talk about things they wouldn’t ordinarily do as part of the “you’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign. Rio’s tweets were the following:

Really getting into the knitting!!! Helps me relax after high-pressure world of the Premiership

Can’t wait 2 get home from training and finish that cardigan

Just popping out 2 get more wool!!!

Cardy finished. Now 4 the matching mittens!!!


You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk#hungry#spon…

It was only by the last tweet that Rio’s followers tweaked that the series of tweets were sponsored. Complaints were fielded by the UK Advertising Standards Agency which cleared the allegations against Mars.

What’s clear though, is that Twitter users are starting to wise up to the fact that the service is becoming increasingly more commercial in its conduct and content. Twitter #fail isn’t just the realm of the lone celebrity either, in the past week Nintendo has come under fire from users who protested that the character in its new Kid Icarus game isn’t new as claimed, but is actually 25 years old. This follows on from the abject failure of #McDStories earlier this year.

With these failures in mind, it’s interesting to note the prevalence of companies which pair up would-be celebrity tweeters with brands that are keen on the exposure, BuySellAds and SponsoredTweets are two of the most notorious.

Aside from sponsored tweets, great content has made millionaires out of a few Twitter users including @Shitmydadsays whose consequent book deal lead to a CBS TV series starring William Shatner of Star Trek fame.

It’s not all brands and boobs though, Twitchange — a charity aimed at helping out Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010 won the Mashable Award for the Most Creative Social Good Campaign.

According to Smartmoney:

[Twitchange] held a charity auction for a nonprofit group to build an orphanage in Haiti. The auction leveraged the fact that people were willing to bid to be followed on Twitter and have their thoughts (and brand) re-Tweeted by the likes of celebrities such as Eva Longoria, Demi Moore, Ryan Seacrest, Demi Lovato, Zachary Levi and Justin Bieber. Levi, an actor, was given the single largest donation of $20,825, according to Mikey Ames, strategy adviser at TwitChange. After 13,000 bids through eBay’s auction service Kompolt, the site raised $540,000 from its gaggle of celebrities.

There’s no doubt that Twitter is no longer the “free and easy” micro-blogging platform it was once purported to be: celebrities, brands and users have started to become a lot more savvy in how they operate with the platform and each other. It will be interesting in the near future to see how it handles its IPO and the demands of shareholders with regards to the bottom line.



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