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Companies may be looking to social media as a cheap alternative to traditional advertising, but it certainly isn't free. It takes time, effort, and often — money. Witness today's trending topics on Twitter.

Michael Jackson's stronghold on the most popular topic all week has finally been loosened by a much more frivolous word: Moonfruit.

Entirely unrelated to the Moon Walk, Moonfruit is a DIY website builder that is giving away 10 free laptops to celebrate its 10th anniversary. All people have to do to qualify is advertise the company on Twitter with the hashtag #moonfruit. The campaign is certainly working. But is it worth $12,000 to be the most popular Twitter topic?

Moonfruit isn't the first company to trade free stuff for brand recognition and a longer followers list on Twitter. Most recently, SquareSpace (another DIY site builder) offered to give away an iPhone a day for the month of June to people who tweeted the hashtag #squarespace.

Moonfruit has adeptly avoided some of the pitfalls that befell SquareSpace. SquareSpace announced their giveaway as an appreciation event. Their website called the contest a "gigantic THANK YOU to all of our favorite Squarespace fans," even though it was clearly a marketing campaign to boost the brand on Twitter.

Another small snag was the prize. Instead of new iPhones, SquareSpace was actually auctioning off $199 gift certificates to the Apple Store. And unless you are eligible for a new AT&T contract, that's a lot less exciting prize (an unsubsidized iPhone runs as much as $699).

But SquareSpace was trading on the popularity the new iPhone garnered in June. A contest with a $199 prize would not have faired nearly well. And despite charges of deceptive advertising, Twitter users today are still happily retweeting the SquareSpace name (even though the contest ended in June).

Moonfruit has a better chance of winning people over with customer service. For starters, a MacBook is an even more expensive prize. And the company has promised to order, purchase, and ship complete laptops to the 10 lucky winners.

But the cheapest MacBook is priced at $1,199. Meaning that Moonfruit is spending $12,000 to get some attention on Twitter. Meanwhile, SquareSpace spent a sum total of $6,000 on Apple gift certificates.

If Moonfruit's adjustments to their contest boost consumer satisfaction, and consumers choose them over SquareSpace when they need to make new websites, the more expensive prize could be worth the outlay.

But it still remains to be seen if any of the people Twittering about this will become customers. Or even continue to follow either company on Twitter for long after the contests end.

Either way, contests that aim to top Twitter's trending topics list are certainly blurring the line between earned media and paid media.

Meghan Keane

Published 2 July, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

721 more posts from this author

Comments (6)

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selina howells

When your friends are trying to sell you stuff on what was a personal, social space distinct from your professional work life,  what has that got to do with prowess? Where is the space on the internet now that I can talk to my friends? I do not want to be paid to talk to my friends so Twitter is not it.

about 7 years ago

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Adam Christie

It's certainly a cheaper way to get visitors to your site than running an offline advertising campaign. I'd never heard of Moonfruit before this and now I've been to the site, looked at their products, and thanks to the prizes they're giving away I'll probably remember them. Successful marketing job.

about 7 years ago

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Kevin Maguire

God damn it, it's spam, pure and simple! It's been the subject of some heated debate in the office today, I've pulled together our thinking for our blog ...

http://bit.ly/sxY3l

about 7 years ago

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alan p

C.mon guys, thsi is spam - I'm surprised you haven't called it.

Also, there is now quite a big negative image kickback against Moonfruit - they may wind up with it all over their face.

about 7 years ago

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Mark

Can someone enlighten me how you spam Twitter? You only see tweets of those you follow and it's up to you whether you want to Tweet #moonfruit.

If you don't like you friends tweeting #moonfruit, then maybe you're hanging out with the wrong crowd, or don't get it.

I think it was a nice bit of fun, the prize was great, it takes 2 seconds to participate, you don't need to "give" them anything of any value.

I sense a lot of jealously from marketers, because to be frank, the campaign is working very well for them and it's just taking the age-old competition. No it's not particularly clever or inventive, but the fact is, people want free macbooks.

about 7 years ago

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craigm

Moonfruit, my giddy aunt, now there is a brand from the good old days.  I bet 90% of the readers of this blog weren't even out of high school when those guys first started hawking their website builder. 

Who cares about the rights and wrongs of their twitter promo, hats off to them for staying in business for so long..

To put it in perspective, they first started trying to get users to use an internet application when no-one except for a few techies had a "broadband" connection and people were using such horrors as Internet 5 and Netscape flipping Navigator 4.7(?)

about 7 years ago

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