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You may not be able to fit a whole lot of words into 140 characters but a growing number of individuals and businesses think that it doesn't take more than 140 characters to produce a profit.
While Twitter focuses on building its platform and brand, plenty of third parties have been focusing on using Twitter as a marketing platform of their own. From established companies like Dell to upstarts like Sponsored Tweets, many are trying to cash in on Twitter.
And now Amazon wants a piece of the action. Less than 48 hours ago, Amazon let affiliates know about a new feature that enables them to tap into Twitter:
The Share on Twitter feature is easy to use. Simply log in to your Amazon Associates account and then visit any detail page on Amazon.com. By clicking on the Share on Twitter button in the Site Stripe, a new window will open and an Amazon-generated message is pre populated in the ‘What are you doing?’ text area of your Twitter account (you may be asked to log in to your Twitter account). That message will include a shortened URL that already includes your Associates ID. You’ll have the option to edit this message or simply hit the ‘Update’ button to post to your Twitter account. When Twitter users click on the link in your post and make a qualifying sale, you’ll earn referral fees. That’s it.
Translation: please tweet away! You could potentially be paid for your tweets.
While there was previously nothing stopping affiliates from tweeting links with their affiliate ID and this wouldn't have required any real technical savvy, Amazon's move serves as a sort of endorsement of the practice and is clearly designed to encourage affiliates to promote the company's product catalog on Twitter.
Not surprisingly, there's already criticism. ReadWriteWeb's Sarah Perez notes "Because Amazon's marketplace is extensive in terms of the products it sells, there's a wide variety of things which can be promoted". She goes on:
Soon they'll start promoting a great book they just read, a DVD they liked, or one of a million other things pulled out of Amazon's vast inventory. None of it will sound out of place given the types of informal conversations that take place on Twitter every day. You won't even know that they're advertising to you until you click through on the link and find yourself on an Amazon.com webpage - and even then, you may not be sure. Was that a referral or were they genuinely just linking to the Amazon website to be helpful?
It's a valid concern, especially in light of the new FTC regulations that go into effect in the U.S. in less than a month. Amazon's affiliate social networking FAQ, however, puts the burden on affiliates. In response to the question, "Are there any other issues with the use of affiliate ads and social networks that I need to be aware of?", the FAQ states:
The Associates program is an advertising service and, as a result, you must follow all applicable laws and regulations regarding this type of advertising, including any FTC guidelines.
Of course, Amazon's position is entirely understandable. Why not encourage affiliates to tweet away? There's nothing to lose, although one might validly argue that quality and not just quantity is what produces ROI for most affiliate programs.
The larger question in my mind is: when will individuals realize that engaging in affiliate marketing on Twitter just isn't worth it? As with affiliate marketing in general, a handful of top affiliates will generally produce the vast majority of the sales. Everyone else is lucky to earn enough to buy a latte. For those who use their Twitter account in a personal or professional capacity, turning that account into a vehicle for hidden 'product placements' may come at a greater cost than than that latte (e.g. reduced credibility when your clued-in followers start questioning your motives).
From that perspective, affiliate marketing on Twitter should probably be treated like affiliate marketing elsewhere: leave it to the professionals. If the medium is viable, they'll be the only ones making the real money anyway.