News companies must find a fine line for sponsored tweets

The Associated Press rented its Twitter feed to Samsung for twice-a-day sponsored tweets from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month. Journalism did not die, despite sturm und drang in some media circles.

The Associated Press rented its Twitter feed to Samsung for twice-a-day sponsored tweets from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month. Journalism did not die, despite sturm und drang in some media circles.

If anything, it took another step into the 21st century. Samsung buying sponsored tweets is a natural step for advertising in the media - not much different than a bankruptcy lawyer buying ad space inside a local newspaper's business section. And the AP, whose revenue declined for the third straight year in 2011, needs every financial stream it finds suitable.

Whether sponsored content is a good fit for AP's Twitter feed, and the precedent it would set, must have been a hot topic in the company's boardroom. For decades, the news nonprofit set the trend for journalists worldwide, many of whom treat the latest edition of the AP styleguide like a holy book. Other AP edicts on matters from gift giving to reimbursement of costs are also long- held industry standards, so its decision to embrace sponsored tweets will certainly influence media at the national and local level.

There's also an opportunity for PR agencies here. In a recent blog post, Richard Edelman noted that his firm helped broker the deal between Samsung and AP, and said it has also spoken with The Economist and Business Insider about similar initiatives.

For its part, AP said it will be "looking for new ways to develop revenues while providing good experiences for advertisers and consumers" and that both groups "expect AP to do that without compromising its core mission of breaking news."

The key words are "good experiences," because the success of sponsored tweets in news organizations' feeds won't be up to advertisers, the media, or PR firms. Consumers, none of whom follow AP's Twitter handle for advertising, will make that decision.

That's why the AP's decision to limit the number of sponsored tweets to two per day was encouraging, as were reassurances that its journalists won't be sending them. If AP, or any other media outlet, bombards consumers with sponsored tweets, they can be sure that readers will click unfollow, switch to a rival service, and cause a dust-up on social media along the way.

People do not follow Twitter handles for ads.They will tolerate the odd sponsored tweet as the cost of good journalism, but it's up to media out- lets to find that fine line.

Frank Washkuch is the news editor of PRWeek. He can be contacted at frank.washkuch@prweek.com.

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