Paid Ads in Twitter Updates: Trust Busters?

What do you think of a Twitter update that’s a paid advertisement for M&Ms or Cheese Doodles? Brad Stone’s column yesterday in the New York Times explored this new trend, which seems to be an anathema to the whole spirit of social media. At least at first glance.

The idea is that “people trust recommendations from those they know and respect, while they increasingly ignore nearly every other kind of ad message in print, on television and online,” according those interviewed for Stone’s article.

Then again, a social media update that’s actually a paid ad could quickly erode that trust. At Tribe, we counsel our clients to confine the sales messages to their websites, and not to use their blogs or social media updates as free advertising. Social media is for  starting conversations, building relationships, and offering your expertise, we tell them.

But really, most grownups who are blogging and tweeting are doing so to build their business. It’s an indirect form of sales, but behind all that social media you’ll generally find specific business goals which include increasing sales. We are all working to be helpful to others and engage in dialogue and connect with people beyond our existing circle. But it would be dishonest to say we’re doing that just to be nice. We’re doing it to attract clients and customers.

So maybe the paid ad for M&Ms is more honest in the long run. A tweet that begins with a hashtag like #ad or #sponsored is at least transparent. What do you think? Is a paid ad in a personal update a slap in the face of social media’s non-commercial spirit? Would you unfollow someone on Twitter if they sent you an ad? If you were asked to promote a product to your followers, for a fee, would you refuse?

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