Commercial messages are set to become even harder to decipher with the start of a service on Twitter that encourages us to become advertisers and be paid money to market products to followers.
Some Twitter users were unhappy when Rio Ferdinand, singer Cher Lloyd, and other celebrities used their accounts to advertise Snickers bars – the complaints were rejected by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Now "ordinary Twitter users" are being recruited to compose endorsements of 140 characters or less, meeting "briefs prepared by advertisers". Users who are "influential within their social circle, particularly those with a large following" can command higher fees, provided the tweet is "in line with the advertiser's core values". The onus is on the "ordinary user" to attach the addendum #ad so that their followers know that the tweet has been paid for.
"On social networks like Twitter consumers are heavily influenced by the recommendations of real people," says Sean Riley, CEO of London-based Ad Dynamo, which is in talks with several British brands to provide the service and already has South African clients signed up. "Third-party recommendations are highly valued because they're impartial and based on personal experience."
Impartial? When there's the incentive of a fee involved, how can we be sure?