Twitter promoted Tweets – does it corrupt online journalism?

13 Mar

Caroline James @CarolineJames1

It began with Toy Story 3.  Finally, Twitter happened on a means of making money in the form of “promoted Tweets”.

Fair enough: if you don’t like the look of what’s being promoted, you don’t have to click on it.

But what happens, when news channels start promoting their news coverage via Twitter? The issue of how commercial pressures impact upon news coverage is something oft discussed by journalists: The Independent’s David Lister wrote about it back in 1993.  Commercial broadcasters, like ITV, are dependent on advertising revenue to finance their programmes, including news coverage.  So, the debate comes when viewers feel the news agenda is being dictated by these financial pressures, rather than editorial ones.

Al-Jazeera is having something of a moment in terms of its news coverage right now.  As early as January, it saw an increase in traffic to its site by a staggering 2,500%. Positioned in the perfect spot to cover the protests in Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya, it has leapt on the Twitter band-wagon to take advantage of this:

Al-Jazeera began promoting their tweets with the Egypt coverage

So, not only are they in the perfect spot to provide the most “on-the-ground” or “close-to-the-source” journalism, but they’re directing more traffic to their news coverage via promoted Tweets.

While it’s a fantastic application for social media on a new journalistic distribution platform – TV – the idea of paying to increase the size of your audience has its critics.

Data scientist, Ed Borasky points to Al-JAzeera’s purchase of major Egypt-related hashtags: #Egypt #jan25 #Mubarak and some of the new cabinet ministers, too.  He concludes: “This is about money pure and simple.  This is about closing sales.”

Borasky also flags up the fact that Al-Jazeera has gone even further than just hashtags and tweets.  It’s purchased a “Twitter promoted account”, which means it can crop up at the top of “who to follow lists”. 

So is it a question of Al-Jazeera unfairly exploiting Twitter and tricking users for its own gain? Or, is it merely an example of excellent mutual opportunism from both sides?

Twitter makes money from its promoted tweets and accounts and I’m sure Al-Jaz are paying handsomely for the privilege.  There doesn’t seem to be any definitive answer from Twitter on how much this all costs – whilst the Twitter blog introducing the concept in April last year raves about how “really excited” this new platform makes them, it doesn’t mention money and more significantly, the specific costs of promoting a tweet. Surely, this is a key question? Can I afford to promote my tweets, too? Or, do I need the financial backing of the Qatari Emir, as Al-Jazzera has?

Jeremy Shoemaker with his blog post on advertising with Twitter is more scathing still, asserting: “users get the shaft”.  He reminds us that, if Twitter chooses to promote my tweets, his tweets, or your tweets, we don’t get a penny.  He sums it up: “This is the first advertising model I can think of where the user who is creating 100% of the content being paid to advertise is getting zero percentage of the revenue”.

While I don’t like the idea of one news outfit attracting more coverage than another, simply because it has more money, Al-Jazeera does seem to have struck gold with Twitter promoted tweets.  It’s in the right place at the right time and exploiting that position to cement itself as THE place to go to for the latest on what’s unfolding in the Middle East.  It looks like we’re going to be hooked on what’s happening in the region for the foreseeable future so you can’t help but admire Al-Jazeera’s new marketing strategy.

This is beyond social media in online journalism, this is social media in online AND TV journalism: a new and exciting concept altogether.

 

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