Lots of tongues and fingers are wagging as it becomes news how The Associated Press has sold a number of Twitter updates during and within its coverage of CES to Samsung. According to the Buzzfeed story that seems to have broken the news, The AP will publish two Twitter updates each day during CES that are advertising for Samsung. these are separate from its organic, news-oriented coverage of Samsung and other companies at the Las Vegas trade show and they are part of a deal just between the two parties, not using Twitter’s ad products.
As the story points out, the updates that are part of the ad package will be clearly labeled as being promotional and sponsored to create as much distinction in readers’ minds as possible and err on the side of disclosure, all of which is good.
There are two issues that need to be addressed here, though:
- There’s no way this slips under the radar of Twitter and, more accurately, doesn’t result in an eventual tightening up of what is and isn’t allowed by the platform company. Everything Twitter has done in the last year in terms of its API restrictions has been done, however overtly, with advertising revenue in mind. If Twitter feels companies are en masse going around it to cut ad deals of their own without allowing them to wet their beak just a little and, more accurately, that such moves seriously threaten revenue, terms of service will be adjusted and adjusted quickly and drastically.
- Go back to the title of this post. Now imagine we’re talking about NBC and television. Ads in the middle of news coverage doesn’t seem at all silly, does it? Quite the opposite, in fact: News coverage without advertising inserted into it would seem odd and unusual. We understand that the production of the news we read/watch/listen to has a cost and that in exchange for access to that news is our exposure to advertising messages.
So the conversation then comes down to the question of whether or not social media – because it has always come with the promise of being more authentic (whatever that means) – is supposed to be sacrosanct in some manner.
In my opinion that’s a conversation that doesn’t go very far. Twitter, Facebook and other social outlets are still distribution points that, in some manner, it is legitimate to monetize. I’m not advocating turning entire feeds over to advertisers and completely throwing off the balance of what’s being published. The audience will quickly defect if it feels it’s being taken advantage of. But when it’s done in a limited, transparent and respectful way then this doesn’t feel like all that much of a violation to me, despite what some ideological purists would like to say.
This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has been done and it absolutely won’t be the last. But there will be repercussions of some kind from The AP’s decision here. It just remains to be seen what they are.