Brands in Social Media and Selling Influence

Recently Kmart hired some popular bloggers and twitter personalities to promote a competition they were running. Essentially the bloggers were all paid $500 to promote a $500 gift certificate to Kmart. Lots of questions about whether this ethical or breaking some kind of sacred blogger covenant to not sell out. In particular posts from Chris Brogan and Jeremiah Owyang on this topic are not only interesting, but have generated an enormous response in the comments. Technosaler has a different take on this and even takes Jeremiah to task for editorializing as an analyst.

This controversy is absolutely baffling to me and IMHO people are asking the wrong questions especially if they have any interest in business on the web.

First of all the competition was a brilliant and simple idea. How to make an idea spread on twitter with a very minor incentive, the ‘chance to win’ something. In this case the motivation to have a chance to win a Kmart gift certificate drove people to rebroadcast that message to their networks. So brilliant the idea, I copied it the same day and posted this to twitter:

“@karllong is giving away 10 x $25 gift certificates for – just RT this to enter, will tweet the winners ”

Now I only had 1,800 followers at the time and the result was nothing short of extraordinary. That message got retweeted or rebroadcast over 500 times, that means well over 25% the size of my network took an action to rebroadcast my message to their networks. The very first person to RT was @Coryobrien and he had 1200 people following him so I almost doubled my ‘impressions’ on the first hop. I also added 250 people to my twitter network.

Why did this work so well? Probably because I write the number 1 t-shirt blog on the internet (according to google) so my personal brand is totally enmeshed with t-shirts, so it’s totally appropriate for me to promote T-shirts.

To be quite honest I think personal networks are the future of advertising, so forget the ‘controversy’ and focus on the revolution people.

Izea is actually on the right track with their business model which is essentially to empower people to profit from their ‘influence’ or networks. We are the media, and if we are put in charge of what we promote, on what terms, and for companies we believe in, there are few bloggers who will not participate. If patagonia sponsored me I would happily pimp their products for cash, I love what the company does. They have 30 open positions a year (non retail) and they get 30,000 resumes for those positions, people are inspired by what the company does and stand for. I would totally sell my influence to promote companies that I firmly believe in. Sell out, but do it selectively and on your terms.

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  1. anonymous coward
    Posted December 14, 2008 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    For what its worth, I used to actually follow your blog and twitters pretty closely, but about six months ago I unsubscribed from your lifestream because too much of what you do is promotion. You may not feel that there is anything wrong with trying to turn the innerweb into an advertising platform, but I have real problems with it. Part it has to do with the lack of transparency and when you only get 140 characters there is no way that these people are disclosing that they’ve been paid to hype these contests. The other part was that your social updates are so heavy on advertising that I just got sick of seeing it. It probably doesn’t mean anything to you to lose one reader and no doubt your strategy is paying off for you, but for the vast majority of us who just want to have fun and interact with real people online, these covert ads are ruining the net. I may sound like an old codger, but I miss the good old days when blogging was new and exciting and people did it for a hobby. Now that big business has taken over, they are diluting the power of the platform because regular people like myself won’t ever build up the same following without doing it fulltime or having a big marketing budget to back us up. You’re free to do what you want on the net which is part of the beauty of it, but by selling out, you’re making it suck for all of us who don’t make our living on the net.

  2. Posted December 15, 2008 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    first of all, thanks, that is very interesting feedback. I’m not sure what covert ads your talking about, examples would be useful. I’ve never been paid by any company for promoting them except for some affiliate fees, in threadless’s case I only earn money to spend on threadless t-shirts which is why I give away gift certificates all the time. I’ve played some games with those GC and sometimes those were marketing experiments. The most important point though is that I look for T-shirts and designers to promote first, and it’s secondary for me to see if they have an affiliate program. Take a look at my blog, if 10% of my 800 t-shirt posts are affiliate based I will be shocked and amazed. And yes I ended up creating my own t-shirt designs, again working with designers I like and want to promote and make them some money as well. If all that pissed you off I’m terribly sorry, but I am out here trying to create value and promote other companies who I like and respect.

  3. Posted December 15, 2008 at 12:48 am | Permalink


    I think it’s all about balance. If we didn’t talk about our business interests from time to time, none of this would make much sense. When someone who uses SM for entertainment more than business I think they’re more prone to be offended. I too would like to know what “covert ad” means. I know I’ve promoted blog posts and articles I’ve written, or efforts made by my team etc…Having said that, I’ve always tried to ensure I also take an interest in others and their lives too. Like today with you and the gasoline tax/auto industry exchange…

    I’m not sure you should lose any sleep over this comment if you don’t feel it’s valid based on your actions…


  4. Posted December 22, 2008 at 10:54 pm | Permalink


    I can’t think of a better way to cut through the clutter than the example you just gave us. Samples at Costco, Free Trials, and now Twitter contests. The evolution of product distribution and brand awareness.

  5. Posted January 5, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Hello Karl,

    Just a stupid question: How do you know someone RT your post? Does that person has to advise you or is there any functionality in Twitter to know that?



  6. Posted January 5, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    @Nestor – I think there are several ways to find out if someone has RT you, I generally always have a twitter search window open searching on my twitter name

  7. Posted January 6, 2009 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    What I said, it was a stupid question ;] Thanks a lot!

  8. jone terry
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    I am agree with you with these thing.

3 Trackbacks

  • By Understanding Izea’s Sponsored Blogging Service on December 14, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    [...] Long: Brands in Social Media and Selling Influence suggests that there are different questions we should all be [...]

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    [...] will take is a challenge in itself. My bet is that it will be more about an exchange of value between brand and individual than a distinct message as such. Both individual and their broader group will become a part of an [...]

  • By TRAACKR’s Tip of the Week #1 | on January 29, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    [...] For more on this, Karl published a post on the topic a couple of days ago that you can find here. [...]

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