A new use for social media

Social media can be a great PR tool, but the way some companies use it doesn’t seem right to me. I recently read a post on a blog called The PR Practitioner titled “Companies pay you to talk and tweet about them.” Before I even read any further, I was appalled. It’s one thing to create a Twitter and Facebook account on behalf of your company, but it is another (much less respectable) thing to pay others to use social media for you. To me, it seems like misleading PR.

As I read the blog post, I learned that celebrities like Kim Kardashian have been paid $10,000 for posting a single Tweet about a company. Other people, not just celebrities, can also get paid for doing the same (although probably much, much less than $10,000) by visiting sites like PayPerTweet.com and PayPerPost.com.

The blogger said it’s great that people can make easy money doing this, but at the same time, it’s completely wrong because their tweets and blog posts would then lack authenticity. I completely agree, but I would also take it a step further. I would argue that anyone who posts about a company or product could then be questioned about whether it was authentic or not. I know I will be skeptical about it from now on. How will I ever know if they got paid for recommending something? How can I ever trust that it’s a real opinion? I doubt that it is required to include that you were paid to post, especially on Twitter, since they wouldn’t want to waste any of the 140 characters, and another disclosure post would cost an extra $10,000!

This whole thing really upset me. It just seemed like a sorry excuse for PR at first, but then I started thinking about it some more… Is it really that different from paying celebrities to wear a certain clothing brand or to star in a commercial? I suppose it’s not, but yet I still have a problem with being paid to tweet more so than being paid in advertising. What do you think?

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10 Responses to A new use for social media

  1. dolson says:

    Same disease, different symptom. A cynic will tell you this is the next inevitable phase in marketing celebrities as unofficial spokespersons. I’m reminded of people stopping others on the street and asking them to take a picture, and afterward giving a spiel on how great the camera is. That’s because the guy with the camera is using sneaky psychology to make you think you need that camera.

    Paying a celebrity (or, in Kardashian’s case, a celebutwit) to shill for a company is fine, as long as this is disclosed publicly. I expect this kind of thing, which is why I don’t listen to celebrity messages. I don’t consider celebrities reliable figures or sources, anyway.

    This new symptom is sad because it shows what kind of slumming PR can turn to; and also upsetting, because it shows the PR practitioners doing this believe their audience dumb enough to fall for it.

  2. kwashburn says:

    It is a shame that celebrities, especially like Kim Kardashian, are getting paid ridiculous amounts of money to tweet about something that in all honesty they probably know nothing about. Let’s face it, Kim Kardashian didn’t attend college, and frankly doesn’t have a profession besides being a reality TV star…therefore why do we care so much about what she has to say? I know that I don’t. I agree this is a sorry excuse for PR. I remember when I interned for GUESS, Inc., there was a job within the PR department that was 100% dedicated to keeping up with the Facebook fan page and writing tweets for the company. This is what the person did all day long…I couldn’t really understand why this was considered a legitimate job. This person went to a four-year credited university and ended up writing facebook status updates as a profession…and this was considered PR. I don’t understand it and I hope PR is not just becoming a social media job, because that is not the intended purpose.

  3. a_hundza says:

    The struggling college student in me would love to be paid to update a status all day long, but the creative and intellectual side of me tells me I’d be disappointed in myself and all that I’ve accomplished. If that’s all my job entailed after graduation, as kwashburn said of the GUESS, Inc., position, I’d pay each month of my student loans with disgust. What a waste.

    I sincerely hope that our degrees will not be spread out so thin that we will be that, or that they’ve become so pointless that they aren’t needed whatsoever. I personally know people from many different majors, none of which were PR, that are now graduated and working jobs that are classified as PR. Half of them are the social media employees and the other half are actually writing press releases, contacting media, etc. I suppose, either way, I feel short changed in one way or another being in PR right now.

  4. vlumpkin says:

    This article made me wonder: Are we being idealistic as PR students or is this just the way the “real world” of PR works. I really wanted to agree that paypertweet.com is a “sorry excuse for PR” but I’m not so sure. I will say there are some ethical considerations. However, if it meets my clients goals and objectives do I just “put lipstick on the pig?” I have heard many of my professors say that public relations does not have the same ethical standards as journalists; maybe it’s because of practices such as this.

    I agree that I don’t want my degree to be meaningless, but that’s up to me. There are high paying jobs available for PR professionals. Trust me. Our brothers and sisters in the industry have billed Toyota and Tiger hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last month or so. As long as there is human error there will be a need for public relations. Nobody calls the advertising department, the marketing department or the social media kid when a crisis hits; they bring us in: the PR professionals.

  5. aguido says:

    I do unfortunately think that is kind of a smart marketing ploy, and is essentially along the same lines as having a celebrity spokesperson. I see how it is pretty annoying though in that you have to be suspicious now and wonder if something lacks authenticity. Does so-and-so really like that product, or is he/she getting paid to say that? I would probably post such a thing if I got a certain amount of money for it, but what if I hated the product? There are definitely people out there who would tweet it regardless of whether they liked it. So some horrific product could be gaining a bunch of social media attention just because they paid a bunch of people to say so. It definitely makes you suspicious of such products. If it is all financially driven, where’s the reality? What if reviews of something we really cared about? As I hunt for apartment complexes to move into after graduation, I often wonder about the reviews about them online. I wonder what if one of their own employees is writing this great review under some alias? Or a competitor is writing the bad review under an alias? You just never really know anymore and it is sad there are arrangements now like this that just make you wonder even more.

  6. alevy says:

    I feel that this is a very timely and legitimate topic because as Twitter and social media continue to implement their way into the “norms” of PR, should we be screening each Tweet or Facebook status’s for authenticity and credibility?

    I agree with you about potential misleading PR and the way companies pay people to use social media sites for their products or services. With the rising amount of celebrities and other stars on Twitter and other social media sites, how do we really know if anything they say isn’t paid for or endorsed by some company or other PR representative? I feel that this is merely a way to grab the attention of the public because although it may seem ridiculous, many people really do care what celebrities have to say. In the advertising world, celebrities are used to promote products on a daily basis (as you mentioned) in order to get people to buy their products/brands, so how different is it to use celebrities and social media to get the word out there? I know I follow many of my favorite celebs and other entertainment debutantes on Twitter for fun, but there are many people out there that care what they have to say and will help companies/PR raise awarness and retain interest by adhering to what popular people Tweet about or post.

    On another note, although social media has made a great impact in the PR industry, I do hope (as Kasey and a_hundza mentioned) that it does not steep to a world where Tweeting and Facebooking are credible careers. However, I think that PR is very versatile and although social media has become an important aspect, there is a lot of critical thinking that goes into making a successful PR agency/representative. In turn, social media cannot be the answer for everything.

  7. kmcnally says:

    I am also appalled by this. I didn’t go to school to become a public relations major to write 140 characters about a company and get paid for it. That isn’t what PR is all about. while it would be nice to be paid that much, it is unrealistic. I have paid far too much money for school to waste it on 140 characters. i wouldn’t be getting out of it what i came to get.

    Social media is an important factor in the direction journalism in general is heading, but it shouldn’t be used in the way that they explained in the post. While it is celebrities that get paid to post something about a company on Twitter, like said earlier it is no different than them being paid to wear certain clothing, or get paid to appear at certain things. This is what celebrities do though, would this job be realistic for regular people, aka those that aren’t celebrities?

    I just hope that my education wasn’t a waste if this is the way PR is heading. It worries me that this is what is happening.

  8. crandell says:

    I agree. Unfortunately I wrote a very similar post after you did but we both highlighted almost the exact same points. I was focusing more on the fact that it is unethical in PR and desperate to pay some celebrity to endorse your product through social media. But I still argue the larger issue is that it should be considered advertising not public relations. If you are buying publicity with a celebrity endorsing your product, you are no longer promoting an image you are associating your product with technically another “product”. Great post.

  9. hhoma says:

    It is a definite reality that companies are hiring recent college grads to be “social media professionals.” I am still very resistant to Twitter, and every time that I complain about it in my online media class, my professor tells me that I’ll be missing out on job opportunities if I don’t get on board. He has brought in numerous articles that explain the increase in social media positions and has stressed that the entire job involves tweeting, blogging and updating facebook statuses all day. I agree with kwashburn, in that I hope PR isn’t becoming an overwhelmingly social media avenue. As “old school” as it may seem, I hope to still write press releases and create campaigns that involve much more than social media.

    aguido brings up a good point about aliases – it’s probable that competitors might post negative reviews or internal employees might post positive reviews of a product or company. It makes me even more skeptical about what I find online.

  10. cmcelroy says:

    I am on board with Chelsea that this falls more under advertising than PR. While I can understand the questions of honesty, to me this is no different than any other endorsement deal. Celebrities have been getting paid to put their face behind products for years, and it isn’t always in front of a camera. When a celeb signs on to endorse, often times that contract includes consuming the product publicly and making a display of their satisfaction. In this realm, taking the endorsements to the Twitterverse seems like the logical next step. I’m certainly not arguing that celebrity endorsements are “right,” but unfortunately its a tactic that has already been embraced. At this point, identifying social media as the one place where such promotions are unethical seems like futile battle.

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