Many people have been thinking and working for some time to find a way to get friends and so-called influencers to advertise on behalf of companies or promote corporate messages to their followers or networks. The idea is to find a mechanism or system to mimic word of mouth at scale, using existing social networks for distribution.
The NY Times covers two such startups: Likes.com and Ad.ly. The idea of bloggers getting paid by sponsors or advertisers is fine. Blogging takes lots of time and I support the idea of people being able to pursue it. Problems start when surreptitious affiliate sales or advertising start to “infect” the social graph. The article points out that disclosure is the key to all this:
Ted Murphy, the C.E.O. of Izea, now a 30-person business backed by $10 million in venture capital, said the company initially “made a big mistake” by not setting disclosure standards for publishers and advertisers. Today, ad networks promote their standards; Izea’s ads on Twitter are typically demarcated with signifiers like “#ad” or “#sponsor.”
There are ways, along the lines above, to manage all this. But there’s a larger “philosophical” objection here about ads starting to “cannibalize” the social interactions among people on these networks.
If someone I don’t really know makes a pitch (directly or indirectly) for a product or service it’s something like a celebrity endorsement. (Indeed, Ad.ly appears to be substantially about inserting ads into celebrity tweets.) I don’t care so much, although it may be annoying. But if professional contacts, acquaintances and even friends start sneaking commercial messages — even if they’re disclosed — into my stream of updates and feeds I’m going to start blocking or “unfriending” those people pretty quickly. They will start losing credibility with me and in general.
Wouldn’t you similarly be annoyed or find this pretty objectionable? Or would it simply be a matter of disclosure for you?