Celebrity sponsored tweets need structure

Wayne Rooney: My tweets have been bannedKim Kardashian is crazy for shoes from ShoeDazzle, Jordan and Rio Ferdinand enjoy Snickers, Jimmy Carr is a Starbucks fan and Wayne Rooney wears Nike. We know this because their Twitter feeds say so.

The high profile tweeters were all well compensated by these various brands this year for posting tweets to their millions of followers, in Kardashian’s case to the tune of around $10,000 per tweet.

This process of compensating celebs for tweeting about brands, products and services has caused trouble with the Advertising Standards authority (ASA). Nike’s appeal to the ASA over the decision to ban a campaign on Wayne Rooney’s Twitter feed was rejected in September, maintaining the company’s position as the industry’s first brand to have a Twitter campaign banned.

Tweets on Rooney’s and fellow footballer Jack Wilshere’s Twitter profiles endorsing the sporting goods brand failed to clearly indicate that they were marketing communications. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) recommend including a recognised hashtag such as #ad or #spon in any compensated tweets – which Rooney failed to do in his tweet for Nike.

The ASA’s concern is that without clearly signposting that the tweets were marketing communications the messages could be seen by the footballer’s many millions of followers as purely third party recommendations. People often perceive tweets as impartial and based on personal experience, but that’s not the only value of celebrity tweets. Celebrities tend to have far larger Twitter followings than the brands themselves, within which their third party recommendations are very influential.

Kardashian’s 16 million followers far outweighs ShoeDazzle’s 70,000, while Rooney’s 5 million followers trounces Nike UK’s 16,000. Even more disparate is Rio Ferdinand’s 3.3 million followers compared to Snickers UK’s paltry 1,800. Every one of these celebs has a larger following than the 2.9 million circulation of the Sun, the UK’s biggest selling and the world’s 10th most circulated newspaper.

To avoid the hot water Nike and Wayne Rooney fell into this year the process of compensating celebrities for tweeting about brands needs more structure. Ultimately it’s the celebrity tweeter’s responsibility to ensure that compensated tweets are clearly marked as marketing communications with the #ad hashtag. However, brands should also have the option not to authorise the tweet if it fails to include such a hashtag. Approval processes within structured systems can prevent both the brand and the celebrity tweeter from violating the ASA’s rules, and enable both parties to capitalise on Twitter activity.

The process should also be streamlined, as currently it’s laborious and time consuming. Brands approach a celebrity’s agent, agree the content of the tweets, negotiate an appropriate fee and time the tweets to fit strategically with their campaign. The market should be opened up to provide both celebrities and brands with more choice, and more direct control. Celebs and their agents should be able to choose from a wide range of brands, products and services to align with, rather than just waiting for brands, products or services to approach them for support. At the same time brands should be provided with a portfolio of tweeting celebs, from which they can decide the stars that best align with their campaign.

Celebs should also want to be rewarded for promoting the brands they like, not just the ones they’re paid to like. Their followers want, and place more value on, the celebs’ true affinities with brands, and those recommendations are also the ones that are most valuable to marketers. Brands should be looking for authenticity in each endorsement by securing the celebrity’s own tone of voice. This will help to dispel the idea of back room deals and obfuscation that the ASA worries may potentially mislead consumers.

The ASA’s core values are ensuring that advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful. By providing structure the process of compensating tweets can be made faster, more efficient and more effective, but also put in line with the ASA’s core values, so tweeters and brands can maximise the marketing potential of Twitter feeds.

Sean Riley is CEO of Ad Dynamo, which recently launched a Sponsored Tweets service