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Should You Use Sponsored Tweets?

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You might not know it, but Twitter is being used as an advertising platform. In many respects, Twitter is the ultimate advertising platform since people are hearing directly only from the people they want to hear from. If they don't like the message they're receiving, users can just tap out and no longer hear from them. That's all well and good, but a rising tide in social-media marketing is the notion of sponsored tweets: When someone you're following on Twitter suddenly takes a break from their regularly scheduled tweets to tell you how rad Snickers are or how mega-dope H&R Block is. If done shoddily, it can be jarring.

On the other hand, social-media ads are just the next evolution in marketing. "Consider this question," said Matt Hensler, the social-media strategist for Deals Magazine. "If people really wanted to hear from brands, would they need to see it on their TV screen?"

But I'm also of the mind that if you want to be hearing from these brands on Twitter, you'd be following these brands. In other words, I, personally, am more apt to unfollow someone if they're suddenly blasting ads for products and services I don't care about. Actually, I'd do that if they started tweeting any ads. And since celebrities often are the ones who spew out sponsored tweets, it isn't like I have to uncomfortably explain to them why I stopped following them -- and besides, that reflects more on the advertiser than the celebrity, per se.

If you're a brand considering going this route, though, know that it isn't only open to celebrities -- it's just that celebrities tend to have more followers than "regular" people. "Thanks to Groupon, Facebook, and Pinterest, even the everyday housewife can be the advertisers' dream spokesperson," said Lauren Young, communications manager at Mauck & Baker. "Just look at the share tab on Facebook, which many companies utilize to give $10 or more if a user refers a friend to purchase their product."

So, what if you're an entrepreneur in Chicago and you're thinking of going this route? "I'll be honest, I've mostly just seen sponsored tweets used by huge brands," said Davis Cox, partnership manager at Big Fuel. "If you've made Twitter specifically, and social media in general, a huge priority in your marketing efforts, it's worth looking at."

Cox also added that you can geo-target Twitter ads, "so even a large business in one city should take a look at it if they aren't a nationwide powerhouse."

Even big powerhouses, though, it's worth noting, have struggled with effectively executing social-media advertising. Back in January, McDonald's had a Twitter hashtag campaign backfire where diarrhea and fingernails in hamburgers became part of the conversation from its fans reacting to a #McDStories effort. Probably not what McDonald's was going for. (For tips on how to handle hashtags better, read this recent post I did.)

So, sponsored tweets are one such way to control the conversation. Just make sure you're ready to enter it, first. Twitter's guide for small-business advertising is also worth a gander, too, to get you there.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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