If you believe IZEA has the Midas Touch, it might help to brush up on your mythology; we all know Midas turned everything he touched into gold, but we forget how the story ends. Upon receiving his magical ability, Midas converted a few baubles into gold and at first was pleased, until he tried to eat and drink and found that solid gold food was not going to fill his stomach. His prayers to have the ability reversed were answered, and Midas renounced wealth and lived humbly the rest of his days.
IZEA promises easy gold, but those who engage with IZEA may find themselves wishing--as did Midas--for a quick exit. IZEA and other "sponsored conversation" firms are the wrong model for Social Media. Wrong for whom, you might ask? Absolutely everyone!
Why IZEA is Wrong for BrandsLike Midas, who was pleased with his initial results, IZEA claims their early programs furnished positive ROI. Brands would be wise to proceed with caution before basing expectations upon the outcome of IZEA's first programs; marketers have sometimes been enthused by the early success of new tactics and rushed into investments, only to be disappointed by diminishing results as those tactics became more commonplace.
For example, GM O'Connell, founder and chairman of the agency that in 1994 invented the banner ad we know today, noted that the very first banner campaign attracted a 42 percent clickthrough rate (CTR). That first banner ad garnered a CTR 100 to 300 times higher than is common today because it was unique and attracted attention. Paid blog posts and tweets are likely to follow the same path--furnishing some reason for initial optimism but ultimately earning the same consumer indifference and loathing as banner ads. For financial reasons, brands must proceed very cautiously with "sponsored conversation" tactics.
Another reason for brands to reject IZEA and their ilk is the quality of the blogs and Twitter accounts to which they furnish access. The IZEA home page lures marketers with names like Chris Pirillo (Technorati Authority of 537), Janice Croze (Authority of 1388) and Chris Brogan (Number 2 on the Ad Age 150) You don't need to scratch too deeply to see the giant chasm that exists between these people and the typical bloggers and Twitterers offered by IZEA. For example, on IZEA's SocialSparks.com I quickly found a "verified" blog called "OOooooh what does that do?!" offering sponsored conversations, but it turns out to be not a blog but a spammer's trap. In the IZEA community, this valueless spam site earned three "props!"
IZEA is now plotting to bring pay-per-tweet to Twitter, but this sort of platform already exists. As I noted in a blog post back in May called "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People," Twittad.com has been offering paid Tweet opportunities for some time. As with IZEA, the quality is not what brands expect and demand. In that article I noted, "For just $918, you can sponsor the misspelled, fraudulent 'Official Joe Jonas Brothers' Twitter account, @JoesephJonas. With this sort of quality and authenticity, how could brands possibly lose?"
I am hardly suggesting that brands don't belong on blogs and in tweets, but for conversations to be truly valuable, they must be earned, not sponsored. On Twitter this weekend, I complimented a movie, recommended a brunch, and shared an interesting Social Media friend-tracking tool. I didn't get paid to tweet these things--my comments were earned by businesses that furnished the kind of function or experience I wanted to share.
I'm not even suggesting that brands cannot target bloggers or Twitterers for special attention. Far from it--Social Media PR that focuses on finding the right blogs and crafting the right approach for each blogger is an extremely valuable tool in the social marketing toolkit. But there is a world of difference between a smart, respectful, and customized Social Media PR effort and simply hawking your brand in a marketplace of mercenary bloggers willing to sell their readers' trust to whichever brands pay the price.
Paying for blog mentions is the lazy way for marketers to garner attention in Social Media, and as this approach becomes more common it will be apparent to consumers which brands earn buzz and which need to pay for it. In a medium as transparent as Social Media, brands that get people talking authentically create their own gold, but brands who pay for the attention they cannot earn legitimately will only make their brand's impoverishment of loyalty and influence that much more evident.
Please return tomorrow when we explore "Why IZEA is Wrong for Absolutely Everyone: Bloggers and Consumers".