Conflicted About Ad.ly

Ad.lyBrowsing through my Google Reader feed this evening, a story in the New York Times caught my eye. The story was about ad.ly – a relatively new service that pays Twitter users to insert advertisements into their Twitter stream.

In the piece, Brad Stone gives a reasonable outline of the service, which counts “celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Dr. Drew and the musician Ernie Halter” among its customers. It also includes a quote from Robert Scoble:

““It interferes with your relationship with your friends and your audience,” said Robert Scoble, a technology blogger with more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, who says he “unfollows” people on Twitter who send him ads.”

Checking the site, ad.ly also counts Darren Rowse, Jason Calacanis, Jeremiah OwyangBrian Solis and Gnomedex founder Chris Pirillo among its users.

I’ve made my feelings about advertising services on Twitter known in the past. Notably, I got a little upset when some advertisers started posting misleading ads through a service called Magpie back in April this year.

However, I feel a little conflicted about this story.

Pros

Money on the side

Ad.ly lets Twitter users generate additional income with little effort.

Control the ads

Users have full control over the messages that are posted – they approve every message posted through their account.

Disclosure

Every message, according to the site, is disclosed as an ad:

“The end of every Ad.ly tweet (except tweets for charity) is marked with “(Ad)” notifying your audience that this is an advertisement. In order to ensure authenticity, every Ad.ly Tweet has to be explicitly approved by the Twitter publisher and is disclosed as an ad.”

Cons

Hijacking your connections

People don’t follow you to hear about the services that pay you to broadcast their messages. They follow to hear about the things YOU like. Still, I don’t watch TV to check the ads out there, but I do watch them. That said, I don’t like it.

While I don’t recoil to the same extent as others (Shannon Boudjema outlines her concerns succinctly here), I still feel uneasy about the concept.

Social media becoming unsocial

Ad.ly inserts ads into your Twitter stream. It’s traditional media piggy-backing on social media. There’s a disconnect between the “push” mechanism in use and the two-way nature of the medium.

Gut

Logic aside, something just doesn’t feel right for me. I have nothing to back this up – perhaps it’s because I don’t consider monetizing my Twitter followers often, but it sits wrong with me.

Bottom line

In case you can’t tell, I’m finding this one tough. Most of the solid logic points to the idea being reasonable, especially given that the Tweets are both approved by users and disclosed as ads. Still, I can’t bring myself to consider using it.

The logic is there, but… there’s a but. but it doesn’t feel right for me. I can’t put my finger on this one.

What do you think?

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  • Hi Dave,

    I think it can really depend on the niche you’re in, and the audience you have. For example, in the NYTimes they talk about John Chow who blogs in the Make Money Online niche. That niche, and especially John, are very blatant about the fact that everything they do is in order to generate income.

    That niche reminds me a lot of direct marketers of days past, and because the internet is such a fantastic medium for direct marketing we’re going to start seeing more overlap between media and market. Think Guthy Renker for the long tail, but instead of late night infomercials we have landing pages with long form sales pages.

    The challenge for bloggers and twitterers/tweeters is whether or not your audience will feel alienated by these types of activities, or will they be happy for the opportunity to buy what you are selling. Do you want to be seen as an “Oprah Winfrey” or as an “Anthony Robbins”? Primetime tv star or late night infomercial guy?

  • Personally, I’ll probably use it just to piss Scoble off.

    The dude’s on an anti-business bender. Anything I can do to derail him? Awesome.

  • I have a real problem with this. Social media (and Twitter especially) is a word of mouth engine. If a restaurant I’ve been to, object I’ve bought or service I’ve used is cool enough that I want to tweet about it, I will – and that’s the beauty of it. Paid advertising is basically spam to me – I don’t want to read it, and I think if someone’s being paid to advertise something (and not doing it for the love) then they probably couldn’t give a crap about the actual thing they are selling anyway, so why would I trust that?

    I stopped watching TV entirely because the ads make it unbearable. I’ll run a mile of Twitter gets overrun by advertising.

  • Dave,
    I kind of have to agree with you. But again, I guess it’s all about what an individual’s motivation is. For instance, some “bloggers” don’t really blog at all. The blog is just a vehicle to post ads and give stuff away. I think some twitter users have the same approach. There are bloggers and Twitter users who write to connect, inform and communicate and there are those who don’t care about content and just aim to make money online with as many and whatever vehicles as possible. I think it’s really a personal philosophical choice.
    Cheryl

  • Just wait, soon enough Twitter clients will start offering options that allow people to filter ads like a DVR does for TV.

  • Andrea Ong Pietkiewicz

    Isn’t it a bit akin to going to a dinner party and trying to sell things there? Unless it was an Avon party, I suspect you’d start losing your access to those same people whose goodwill and friendship you’ve imposed on.

  • I totally agree with you–it just feels wrong to me. I think there is a very fine line between friends being understanding that you’re just trying to make a buck and friends being pissed that you’re using them to make a buck. I guess I can see the allure if you’re someone with a million followers on Twitter and all you have to do is press a button and you just made $5,000–I get that it would be tempting.

    I think in time stuff like this will become the butt of jokes the way Amway or similar things are. It’s pretty much a universal truth that friends who constantly try to sell friends stuff are annoying and not influential.

    That said, I admit if I could make thousands of dollars off sending a tweet, I might feel differently….or at least be willing to swallow my unease and push the button anyway.

  • For those who want to make some money from twitter, I think it is good to post some ads, but the ads should be:

    1. Related to your niche.

    2. You have used the product or service and do think they are useful.

    3. You are able to arrange the words.

    And, the advertisement won’t be effective if you do not have quite a lot of followers. The good advertisement should be win-win-win.

  • Those who choose to monetize their Twitter accounts are jeopardizing their relationships with their followers. I believe one reason people have increased their use of social media and have not increased their use of television and radio is because social media doesn’t have [disruptive] advertising just yet. It’s easier to find information without having to weed through commercials and product placement. Those who monetize their accounts will likely see some serious decreases in follower counts and will probably be met with some reluctance when it comes to idea exchange.

  • I share your hesitation, Dave, but I really don’t think in-stream advertising is going to seriously alter people’s experience with Twitter. Especially if they’re tagged as such.

    Do people really read and process every tweet in their stream? I think most of us have developed our own filters, whether it be scanning through long lists of unread tweets looking for certain people or keywords or whatever else people are doing.

    If people I follow start mixing in ads with their tweets, I’ll probably just learn to read over them. If they get REALLY aggressive, I’ll unfollow them. No harm done to me.

    There are plenty of people using Twitter to advertise already. Some people (like me) plug their latest blog posts, some (again, like me) promote an event they’re organizing or attending. If someone chooses to unfollow, that’s their decision. I think most people simply read over them if they’re not interested.

  • John Soriano

    Hello, Dave.

    Twitter, like all other forms of social media should be a place to communicate with your followers. If Twitter users choose to advertise they must consider the consequences, such as losing their followers. When I first started using MySpace and Facebook I saw it as a place to communicate with friends. In my opinion, as much as I would prefer to leave advertisements out of Twitter, I feel that because compensation is involved many individuals will jump on the opportunity.

    -John

  • Personally, I wouldn’t do it. No way.

    To quote Michael Wesch, “We need people with human interests and not market interests participating (on Twitter). That means people need to participate in their spare time and not when they’re on the clock for some company.”

  • I guess there is a certain inevitability in any form of new media that advertising will creep in.

    I like Young’s suggestions – this way the ads would feel more like genuine testimonials/recommendations – however, the difficulty would be distinguishing those using ads in this way and those just blatantly posting any kind of ad tweet, regardless of their knowledge/lack of knowledge about the product/service in question.

    It comes down to whether your followers trust your integrity I suppose. If you want your followers to remain loyal to you and to listen to your opinions and be interested in your views/advice (or whatever it is you are tweeting about in the first place) then IMHO it’s important that if you are going to advertise to them, it needs to be relevant, reviewed and not too frequent.

  • I’m with Young and Nicola. I think I might try it, maybe post 1 ad tweet per week to see if what happens. I’m curious if anyone will even notice.

  • Let the internet be free…. and frankly its what I’m used to. If twitter starts free (sans ads) then my expectation is that it will remain free. Any ads would annoy me and get me to use it less.

    On the other hand.. if twitter launched with ads… and then decreased the ads… well.. then I would be happier.

    So.. its a matter of perception.

    My advice is if you start free, then have ads added, those ads REALLY have to add value to my online experience. If not.. forget it.

  • i admire John Chow because of his innovative ways to gain traffic both from whitehat and greyhat methods.`’;