Visibility is everything online, so reaching thousands of people in an instant is something a lot of businesses crave.

This leads many brands to try sponsored messages, but do they actually work, and when they don’t work what’s the PR risk?

“I will share your messages twice over 150,000 Twitter followers and 10,000 Facebook friends to help boost your traffic views for $5” reads just one advert on Fiverr.com.

How can you lose? The seller has 299 positive reviews and 220 people have starred (liked) the service. Surely this is proof that sponsored messages work, right?

Wrong.

A deeper investigation in to the feedback reveals that:

  • Almost all of the feedback comes from four accounts.
  • Many accounts that left feedback have no avatar image or bio. 
  • Most feedback is a single word like “Great!” repeated across multiple items.

Here’s an example snapshot of feedback:

Fiverr feedback

The negative reviews are damning as well:

Fiverr Negative Review
Fiverr Bad Review

Taking all of this in to consideration it’s easy to see that this particular “paid tweets” service is poor. That’s just one example from Fiverr but you can see the same pattern of spam feedback and extreme negative comments here.

Although my personal favourite is this one: 

Everyday tweets

Because who doesn’t want to be spammed with the same message for the rest of time?

It’s not just Fiverr.com, Ad.ly has an equally bad review from Ian Lurie with the great line:

Sponsored tweets rank in profitability somewhere below hiring alchemists to try to turn lead into gold. 

What’s the risk?

Part of the problem is that it’s very easy to amass a large Twitter following very quickly through spammy tactics, such as following a lot of people, then un-following those that don’t follow back.

So one account with 40,000 followers could be rubbish if it’s been made in this way. The followers won’t trust what is said on the account, which means it would very rarely lead to sales.

If you compare this to a natural account that was grown slowly with only a thousand followers, this could be a far better option if the fans are engaged and actually care about and believe what the person says.

The other thing to consider is that to be legal, any message that is made to promote your product must be labelled as sponsored (such as by writing #spon).

The Office of Fair Trading has begun a crackdown in this area to ensure the rules are being followed. Which begs the question: if people know someone has been paid to post a sponsored message, will they believe it?

Let’s take two examples:

Avon 1
Twitter Free Tweet

The first example is paid, the second is a beauty blogger who tried the product. Whilst the first one is very clearly a corporate plug, the second could have occurred naturally by someone who liked and enjoyed the product.

It’s likely that seeing “spon” on messages will become the equivalent of “I’ll just pop out for a cuppah” or using Sky+ to fast forward adverts.

This type of advert blindness is going to make people less receptive to sponsored tweets and more sceptical of these types of endorsements, especially when crammed in to 140 characters.

So do sponsored messages ever work?

If you don’t get sponsored messages absolutely right you also face investigation from legal bodies. The Katie Price snickers campaign is one such campaign being investigated as it had a leading series of messages, only that last of which was labelled as sponsored.

This means that people who saw the early messages in isolation (via retweets or missing the feed) didn’t get the whole picture.

Sponsored messages can work, but they do carry a lot of risk. For all the fallout from the Snickers campaign it got a lot of people talking about the brand. It was a great PR stunt, and if you don’t take it too seriously, actually funny too.

Yes, Katie Price was temporarily intelligent and eating a snickers did make her return back in to an “idiot”, but at the same time it played around with media perceptions and was an interesting enough campaign to get picked up in a lot of places.

Organising a campaign with a celebrity isn’t as hard as you’d think either. Sponsored Tweets list celebrities and you can take your pick.

As for whether or not they’re worth it, well unless you create something viral like Snickers did, most campaigns will only ever stick with the original celebrity so you get a one hit of coverage and views and that’s your lot.

There must be a better way

The Apple Approach

Apple is the most extreme brand for customer love. People like to post genuine messages of affection for the brand’s products, they do it for free, and they do it because they love the brand.

There’s no trickery here, and those honest messages help to encourage more people to get involved with the brand.

If people don’t naturally say nice things about your brand then you can get them involved in your brand instead. Cadbury’s are the kings at this. They recently launched a new Wispa pack via Facebook and got a “super-fan” to reveal it.

The over 270 comments that resulted from this are then helping to spread the word for free.

Want more examples?

  • The TOM’s shoes philosophy of giving away a pair of shoes to the third world whenever a pair is sold, makes them a brand people like to talk about. 
     
  • Gucci has 6.3m Facebook fans. The quality of the product is what gets people talking about them. 
     
  • Like our beauty blogger earlier, you can send products out to get them reviewed (More detail on this here).
     
  • When one of our employees had a bad experience with AutoGlass, he tweeted the company and it was fixed within days. He then wrote an article praising the service.
     
  • Equally, bad service can get you noticed in the wrong way, such as the McDStories hashtag or the same for Quantas that became flooded with bad experiences. 
     
  • Creating fun shareable content will get your brand noticed. A page about Hydraulic Fracturing should not have 7,000 Facebook shares but it does because it’s well designed content.

So yes, you could pay for coverage, or you could get lifelong coverage by being a fun brand, with likeable content and good customer service. Your choice.