Sponsored Aggregation: Impacts to Twitter, Federated Media, Microsoft, and the Community

My job is to dissect new and moving parts into ways that business decision makers can understand, I hope to do just that:

Web Strategy Summary
Twitter is finally monetizing. Working with social media marketing vendor Federated Media, Microsoft has sponsored an aggregation tool that collects all the voices and tweets of executives. While none of the executives were paid, and it’s not influencing their editorial, these public tweets are being monetized by the brands involved. (Added this previous sentence, thanks to Dom in the comments) It’s featured from the Twitter homepage (top right column) this program called ExecTweet gives exposure to the voices of executives and promotes Microsoft’s campaign.

Getting the Facts
I just got off the phone with Matthew DiPietro the Marketing Manager at Federated Media, to understand how brands are now working with Twitter and how the money is moving about. While I believe that Twitter could best monetize by becoming a CRM system, they’ve instead decided to do a variation of what we call sponsored conversations.

Sponsored Aggregation
This isn’t the same as other sponsored conversations programs where the bloggers (or Twitters in this case) are paid, but instead the voices and tweets of executives are aggregated. The executives (including my own CEO @gcolony) is aggregated on this site called ExecTweets, and there is no change in the editorial from the twitter users. In some cases, these execs may not even know they were added to this aggregation page. Individuals can submit other executives to be added to the aggregation page, which will soon be the untethered voices of this executive zeitgeist.

The exectweets site has some voting features that help to allow users to vote up the top discussions, and FM will help curate some of the discussions they think are most relevant. They didn’t say it, but I’ll bet they’ll put emphasis on conversations that best match the Microsoft campaign that’s sponsoring it called “Because it’s everybody’s business

I’d apologize for creating yet another buzzword, but it’s my job to help define new trends, and there’s constant changes in this space, so I’m trying to use terms that people can understand, use and be actionable with.

Breakdown of all the moving parts:

Twitter Community
First and foremost, focus should be on the Twitter community. This small advertisement was featured on the site displaying ‘house ads’ that would promote Twitter features, which is almost a warm up for this Microsoft Ad. Being on the fish theme, I remember that some web designs happen slowly as to not shock the users. The saying “change the fishbowl water a little at a time” comes to mind.

Executives:
Executives that were selected or nominated to be in exectweets aggregation can now benefit from getting additional exposure and provide thought leadership amongst the land of 140. The downside now is their personal conversation are now associated with this campaign, and their general brand. I’d doubt that John Schwartz CEO of Sun would not want to be associated with this program, although I’m told that execs can opt-out.

Federated Media:
FM continues to impress me over the years, lead by John Battelle, they continue to develop innovative ways to sponsor influence, sponsor conversations, and insert brands directly into the editorial flow or develop brand association. Of course, they’ve had a few blunders in deployment but have a strong framework they use in their playbook regardless of the toolset. Their biggest challenge will be that they need to be careful not ensure that all programs are transparent and authentic, in order not to burn any stakeholders.

Microsoft: Tying in it’s campaign to reach executives and those who want to listen to executives, Microsoft benefits from associated branding by sponsoring the development and launch of this program. In theory, this should segment higher qualified clicks to their site “business if for everybody” as the link is on the exectweet site –not twitter.com. Update: I also learned that McCaan, Microsoft’s agency was a large part of this project.

Twitter: This nearly accidental microblogging network benefits by, well monetizing. This small ad takes up very little real estate and gives them the opportunity to trial methods to advertise. I strongly encourage them not to disrupt the editorial flow, and instead focus on the data portion, and monetize the firehose or develop products that brands need to manage discussions.

Impacts
While it’s going to gain buzz from being new, don’t expect click through rates to the Microsoft campaign to be high, as it’s not in the editorial stream of tweets. However, it could generate more qualified CTR from those that are interested in what executives have to say, and secondary benefits from association with the top leaders. Expect this to be a rotating inventory for future campaigns, as Federated Media has done innovative conversational marketing during the height of blogging.

  • JO – I’ve seen ads for Tweetie (iPhone app) and Twittervision in the same spot on the Twitter home page. Is Federated Media trafficking those as well, or just ExecTweets?

  • Great idea! Microsoft becomes the top CXO magnet

  • Peter

    Apparently, these are NOT paid spots (tweetie and twittervision), according to CNET via Techcrunch.

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-17939_109-10202668-2.html

    FM built and is managing the sponsorship for exec tweet for sure.

  • Courtney. Bingo.

  • how much is twitter making from this for you to call it “twitter is finally monetizing”?

    if you read my post (via my name above) – the winner in this new exectweets site is fm, and fm only.

  • I was just going to say what Peter wrote. That’s a pretty sweet deal if Tweetie is not paying for it. What’s catch? Do you know?

  • I think this will cause significant damage to twitter’s value as a platform – they have already received a lot of flak for their recommendations, and now they’ve come up with a rather disingenuous marketing plan to boot.

    I would compare this to Google selling out their search engine to PPC advertising – and while the ads aren’t obnoxious yet, this does not bode well for the future of twitter.com.

    But considering the depressed economy, this “better-late-than-never” move is at least SOMETHING – but still: disappointing due to complete lack of any ingenuity whatsoever.

    I’m sure FM and Microsoft got a good deal, but twitter would have been much smarter to “take the money and run”.

    ๐Ÿ˜‰ nmw

  • Todd Randolph

    I disagree that Google ‘sold out’ by allocating real estate to PPC ads. Paid listings are clearly distinguished from organic results and don’t take a disproportionate amount of space. Could as well say that page designers are selling out by changing copy, layout etc to appease the SEO gods.

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  • I disagree that this is a form of “sponsored conversation” — In all of your examples of sponsored conversation there is a relationship of some kind between the sponsor and the content creator. This relationship is where the ethical challenge comes in and I think you have done a good job of outlining the strategies for the having a relationship and the check boxes for making sure it is ethical.

    But in this case what is happening is different – it is an aggregation of voices — none of those voices have, necessarily asked to be aggregated, know that they are being aggregated, and are certainly not in a relationship to be aggregated.

    Instead I would suggest that there is something else going on here, which relates to what we think of as the three new opportunities for companies to engage with markets. They replace the old three of irritation, information, and entertainment.

    Without going into a treatise, FM and Twitter have created a site that facilitates connection, one of the three new forms. They are enabling individuals to connect with other individuals within the twitter model. By being a facilitator they are earning attention, respect and appreciation from a particular audience whom they are trying to serve.

  • In addition to my prior comment Check out CIO Magazines “Meet the Boss” concept

  • While aggregation of tweets by top executives is cool and valuable, since it provides an organized and central destination in the Twitter community for top-end thought leadership, I wonder…why stop there? Why not *socialize* and extend the Microsoft-sponsored tool across the entire Twitter thought marketplace. Remember, Twitter is a tool that promotes the *mass socialization of thought,* so why discriminate to just ExecTweets. Say, why not offer searchable aggregation for *all sectors* of American thought that thrives in Twitterhood — PoliticianTweets, LawEnforcementTweets, PTATweets, FamilieswithAutisticChildrenTweets…

    Aggregating and *socializing* Twitter’s real time-immediate-accessible *collective thought marketplace* is far more valuable and extracts the full benefit of Twitter’s monetizing potential. Sorry for my buzzwords too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I still don’t see how this vaguely approaches a big time money making business model. ExectTweet looks like fun, but will this really attract millions of pageviews? I haven’t seen a strong argument that sponsored conversations will go beyond a modest number of interested people (unless the sponsored conversations are celebrities, and users can get that from many other places).

  • Dominic Jones

    You’re losing me with all this sponsored this and sponsored that. There’s a difference between advertising and paying someone to write about a brand.

    None of the executive tweets being features are paid for by the advertiser, so how are these “sponsored conversations.” There are ads or sponsors of a site that aggregates tweets. Nothing more.

    It’s frustrating how Forrester can’t tell the difference.

    If I follow the logic being espoused here, then you should be writing about how the NYT or Washington Post or Time are “sponsored conversations” because ads appear alongside their blogs.

    As I said, frustrating that the difference isn’t clear.

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  • Dom

    (I assume this is the same Dom I spoke to on the phone a few weeks ago)

    Aha, Good point. You’re right. I updated the summary paragraph with the following:

    “While none of the executives were paid, and itโ€™s not influencing their editorial, these public tweets are being monetized by the brands involved. (Added this previous sentence, thanks to Dom in the comments)”

    I also indicated that this is a variation of a sponsored conversation, but never indicated it was the same.

    Jeremiah (from his personal blog)

  • Thanks for this very timely article Jeremiah. This is a very important information which I am confident points to emerging trends in social media.

    It’s well recognized that twitter has is a victim of its own success. Anyone who experience the sags in service at twitter, the infamous fail whale, will recognize the need to provide greater bandwidth and a larger capacity.

    The only way I can see this idea as being sustainable of the long term is if the aggregation feature can be integrated seamlessly into other paid services. Such services already have a natural affinity for a specific topic and a niche reader base.

    It seems quite clear, given performance issues that without monitization twitter will not be a sustainable platform. The enormous weight of demand will simply crush it to death unless the system can be expanded, which will require truck loads of new capital.

    Aggregation services do look like one possible model, but one wonders exactly what form this will take. How will it evolve over time? Some of the other comments point to Google selling out their search engine to PPC ads.

    If Twitter is smart they will be cautious to avoid mistakes which will might degrade the open social network which is driven their success to date.

  • Allen

    Twitter is getting something out of this, I would suspect, but the money also goes to McCann, and of course Microsoft gets potential leads.

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  • Kriti

    Jeremiah, Did you know about the Twitter Grader? I just check you out on that. ๐Ÿ™‚

    http://twitter.grader.com/jowyang

  • That’s pretty interesting, though I’m curious to see what the CEOs reactions will be who didn’t know they were included, Tweet something, and THEN realize they were part of the ad campaign and want to opt out.

    While I do think there are great monetization opportunities with Twitter, I’d agree with you that a CRM or similar structure would work well- possibly better than the sponsored conversations.

  • This just irritates the hell out of me. And I’m trying to figure out why – and I’m a big fan of Federated and John B. I’d rather that Twitter, even in it’s attempts to monetize, remain somewhat virginic – it’s one of the major appeals of their concept, IHO. I’d gladly, glady pay a monthly fee for Twitter use – even with various levels a la LinkedIn. Twitter is too important and powerful a tool for communication to let commercialization dilute it’s credibility.

  • Has Google Pwnd Twitter? http://sn.im/GooglePwnsTwitter

    ๐Ÿ˜ nmw

  • Typo: Their biggest challenge will be that they need to be careful not ensure

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