The biggest ripoff in social media

June 11, 2011

Social media, Twitter

There are so many better ways to spend $120,000 on Twitter than promoted trends (Image credit:











I don’t believe what I just read. I literally had to close the tab, click the link and read it again. Twitter Director of Revenue Adam Bain told Clickz this week that promoted trends have reached the astronomical price of $120,000. And what’s even more unbelievable is that companies are forking over the dough. For a promoted trend. For one day. I have one question for anyone who would consider buying a promoted trend, for one day mind you, at that price:


Twitter is a conversation tool. Try engaging in conversation.

The value of Twitter as a platform is in helping people and brand’s reach their business goals and objectives through connections with other people. For the most part, people do business with people. They don’t do business with a topic a lot of people aren’t really talking about that is placed amongst a bunch of other topics people are actually talking about and then is designated as different than the topics people are actually talking about because it is a sponsored topic no one is actually talking about.

A simpler way to say it…Ads don’t build relationships. Ads are ads. When used as part of an integrated approach to build exposure, they can serve an incredibly valuable purpose. But on Twitter, a platform built on engagement, promoted trends allow lazy communicators to concoct large, inflated “guaranteed” impressions numbers that don’t really tell you a thing and pass them along to leadership.

Imagine what a brand could accomplish if it spent that $120,000 on engagement via Twitter instead of a one-day ad:

  • Authentic, targeted relationships
  • Actual conversations with potential consumers
  • Stories about the brand and its customers for users to tell online and offline
  • Goodwill in case something negative happens down the road — see issues or crises
  • Market research on customer needs and how the brand can divert it’s strategy to meet those needs
  • Customer service rants turned into resolutions
  • Traffic back to the brand’s Web properties
  • Organic search results

I’m sure there’s more that I forgot.  But here’s one thing I hope you’ll remember. Don’t try to buy customer experience with a promoted ad that at least half of Twitter users will never even see because they only interact with Twitter via a third-party app like Tweetdeck. You’re smarter than that.

Spend your money wisely. Spend it on content and conversation. Spend it on listening and responding to what you hear. Spend it on building goodwill and relationships.

But for God’s sake — in an economy where $120,000 could pay for one or two real people to manage your Twitter approach, listening and engagement for a year and share your brand story with other real people — don’t throw your money away for one day of fame (sort of) amongst the Twitter trending topics that in the end won’t do much of anything for your reputation long term. You might as well light $120,000 on fire, video tape it and share the video online. You’ll get even more irrelevant awareness from all the people sharing it and calling you crazy.

You’re better than that. Communications has more to offer than that. And in the end, paying that much money for a promoted Twitter trend isn’t strategic.

It’s just stupid.

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jaykeith 14 pts


Great topic. I admire the passion of this post but I have to say that it's also a little shortsighted in my opinion. Have you actually had the opportunity to talk to Twitter about promoted trends? I can tell you that I have and while $125,000 might seem like a lot, a number of big brands have taken advantage and the numbers would show that they did not think it was a waste of money. Some have had great success.

But let me first say that on the surface, I don't disagree with you: Twitter is an engagement platform that works when people build relationships and reach out in truly meaningful ways. But that doesn't mean that you can't take advantage of Twitter's massive audience to build up brand impressions and drive clicks, just like you would with Google or Facebook ads. It's the same premise, and because it's a trackable campaign you can very clearly show value for the investment. Twitter shared with us some case studies that were very interesting - I can't get into specifics because they were shared in a closed door meeting - but in terms of exposure, clicks and impressions the campaigns were a success, without question. Also, it may seem like a lot, but a campaign that includes a social component of $125K is relatively small in the grand scheme of things for large brands. if companies are looking for impressions and clicks, sort of a "quick bang for the buck" then promoted trends is a viable option with a singular campaign. Is it a good long term strategy to build up high quality followers and relationships? No, but I don't think that's how it's being sold either. It's being sold as real estate, plain and simple, that you can take advantage of and be seen on.

Also, you mentioned that promoted trends won't be seen by people using TweetDeck. That's true, right now. But if you think that Twitter buying TD won't soon mean that another version is coming where we HAVE to see promoted trends, you're crazy. That has to be on the roadmap because at the end of the day, Twitter needs to make money and that means promoted trends have to be seen. The purchase of TD was I'm sure in some ways done to control the content those that use it see. It just makes sense.

So again I don't disagree with your premise that Twitter is first and foremost a relationship building engine, but I don't agree that promoted trends won't have their value for companies looking to reach a mass audience and augment their marketing campaigns. As always, it's all about what your goals and measurements are. But I've seen some of the numbers myself, and my take away from the meeting was, "it's $125K now, that number is only going to go up."

Great discussion.

JGoldsborough 170 pts

jaykeith Hey, bud. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your POV. Always respect your perspective. My only problem with the scenario you describe above is that it seems a bit idealistic. I guess if you're talking a big company with a multi-million dollar IMC budget, then there might be a scenario where this type of spend wouldn't be irresponsible. Perhaps when $500K-$1 million has been allocated to social media ad buys. But I would consider the following when assessing that or any situation:

1) What could a client get for its money by spending that same amount on Twitter in another way e.g. promoted tweets, listening and engaging. I just don't see a scenario where listening and engaging doesn't get you more in the long run. Especially since you can be so much more targeted when listening and engaging. Also, promoted tweets seem much more valuable than promoted trends. I use Tweetdeck and Ubersocial on my blackberry. I never see a promoted trend. But I do see promoted tweets. And have even responded to them before because they are seamlessly integrated into my feeds.

2) I don't think we can compare Facebook ads an Twitter promoted trends/tweets as an apples to apples. The most successful Facebook ads are the ones where something is recco'd to me because my friends like it. Facebook has done a solid job integrating suggestions from my friends into their paid options. Twitter has not done this yet and therefore, I don't think its ad options are as beneficial.

3) We've got to stop putting so much stock in exposure as an IMC metric, especially when it comes to our engagement tactics. If we were weighting metrics, exposure examples like impressions should weight fairly low. Especially because a lot of the eyeballs I get with Twitter promoted trends won't be targeted to the customer audience I'm trying to reach.

Obviously, you can see I have my reservations :). But I would be interested in hearing more about what you heard from Twitter or case studies you saw. If you can share specifics here, cool. If not, lets talk offline sometime. Cheers.

jaykeith 14 pts

JGoldsborough jaykeith Would be happy to discuss offline and talk specifics JG, of course. You know how to find me!

But, if you just put your marketing cap on and use this as a one time cost associated with a bigger campaign, that's where the value can come into play. Sometimes a campaign isn't meant to drive long term engagement and relationships (movies as an example), you just want to get the product/event/name out to as many eyeballs as possible and drive real time conversion.

I'm not saying this is a perfect way to market, I'm just saying it's one way to market. I would land more in your court and say that a longer tail campaign with more strategy and long term benefits is a better way to go using SM platforms. We're doing it every day at VP. But that's not quick or painless, promoted trends can be. You and I are also communicators, we're biased and not always using the marketing mind frame of "see, click, convert" which drives a lot of sales online. That's why this promoted trends model (as well as promoted tweets - agree with you those will be most effective) can work for some companies when used correctly and with the right goals. To me, being great in social media means finding the right balance between the two: great engagement/relationships while tying back to clear monetary/brand goals that are measurable and achievable. You can't have all engagement with no sales, and you can't have all sales with no engagement. A middle ground has to be reached.

To give you a bit more perspective, my company probably won't be taking advantage of promoted trends anytime soon, but that's because we know based on surveys that our core customers don't use Twitter. The brands spending money - HBO, Toyota, Samsung - all have clear consumer products/platforms that probably DO reach a big Twitter audience. For them, it's worth it. They get some followers (that they can continue to market to), some sales (immediate clicks and conversions), and brand awareness (millions of eyeballs) for their product, etc.

Is it a great long term marketing strategy? Absolutely not. Is it a good way to augment a one time campaign (one that's spending say $1 million anyways)? I think that it could, and it's not an accident the price has gone up over the past year. Companies are obviously paying for these and seeing the benefits. (again I know first hand two that have).

Here's what I would compare promoted trends to: A local company that's having a grand opening, paying for a plane to fly overhead for an hour with a banner touting what's going on in town (time, place, etc.) It's a one day thing, you might get an extra hundred people to show up as a result and you will probably end up making a little bit more money out of it. It's just another lever to pull to drive some awareness, let everyone know who/what you are. Some of those people will end up coming back, some won't. But for one day, it's worth the spend.

That's all I'm saying. Great discussion as always, hope we can continue it offline.

HowieSPM 1169 pts

Actually biggest rip off is anyone who invested in Facebook above a $15bil valuation. but this definitely comes second. And it helps my own business immensely since my back ground is Finance/Sales and when you can prove value using a cost/benefit analysis it's a slam dunk. nothing makes me happier than showing someone a value then demanding them to support the competition's value and people supposedly smart saying they can't. nothing is worse than those same people then saying sorry they prefer wasting their money. there is a correlation between why cmo's don't last at big companies. shortest tenure in the c suite and for fortune 500 companies averages less than 10 months! and that is because CFO's and CEO's like concrete numbers and ROI. CMO's work with crayons and trust me motto's. Your post is poof LOL.

JGoldsborough 170 pts

HowieSPM Thanks for stopping by, Howie. Yes, CFOs and CEOs like concrete numbers, which has always been a challenge for any communications or marketing execs forced to champion impressions. That's why seeing a story like this one today is so frustrating. We can measure so much more, show so much more biz value than ever before.

$120K can buy a lot for any brand. Or it can buy one BS promoted trend on the Twitter that half of users never even look at because they use an app like Tweetdeck. Oh, and don't forget about the large percentage of people who just set up a Twitter account and never go back. But by all means, let's add them to our impressions count.

If I was seeing those types of numbers as a CEO, I would be looking for a new CMO too. People are lazy. It's sad. The bigger question here is whose fault is it -- lazy communicators or Twitter for taking advantage of lazy communicators?