Magpie Tries To Make Twitter An Ad Network, Fails

Magpie Logo

Magpie calls itself the “Ad Network for Twitter”, and has definitely caused quite a stir in the last few days as Twitter users debate the value of filling their tweet stream with ads in exchange for a few dollars on the side. But is this ‘in the stream’ advertising the future, or will users revolt against an ad network that treads on their sacred ground?

For those unfamiliar with Magpie, it works like this:

Magpie Process

Advertisers buy ads for certain keywords, and create specific messages targeted to those keywords. Magpie then matches those ads to Twitter users that talk about each keyword, and automatically inserts an ad into one out of every X number of tweets, as dictated by the user. Costs are automatically calculated based on the # of followers the user has, as well as the ‘hotness’ of the keyword, and then the ads are systematically blended right into the message stream of the Magpie user/publisher.

Enticed by the prospect of turning my Twitter account into a revenue generator, I too signed up for Magpie and let it post a sample ad into my stream, at which point I reconsidered the decision, thought about what Magpie could turn Twitter into, and quickly canceled my Magpie account.

There are a few reasons why I’m not a fan of Magpie:

1. If adoption of Magpie grows, the annoyance factor grows exponentially. If one of the people you follow on Twitter uses Magpie, it’s pretty easy to ignore the occasional tweet that’s proceeded with #magpie. (To their credit, Magpie does require full disclosure at the start of any Magpie tweet.) However, if more and more people start to use the service, you have to spend more and more time weeding through ads to get to actual tweets from the people you follow.

Think about this: If Twitter had enabled this from the start as their business model, and used the default settings that Magpie uses, 20% of Twitter’s content would be advertising. Do you think Twitter would be as popular as it is today if 20% of every user’s time on Twitter was spent looking at ads?

2. Twitter is conversation. Blogs have ads because the blogger is spending their time to craft quality content that provides a value to the reader. In exchange, they show advertising to the reader, and earn money from the views or clicks that advertising generates. The blogger is getting paid for their hard work, and the reader is trading their value to the advertiser for free content. It’s one-way communication between a writer and his or her readers, and advertising is an accepted part of most types of one-way communication.

Twitter is different. Twitter is two-way communication, and closely mirrors the way that we interact in real life. If a blog is like a magazine, then Twitter is like a conversation between you and a friend, or you and a group of friends. Now imagine if one out of every six things one of your friends said was an advertisement for a company that they didn’t necessarily believe in. Sure, they might talk a lot about beer, and you might consider them a source of valuable information about beer, but if they spent a given percentage of their time talking about a beer made by the highest bidder, and automatically inserted those random facts into a pre-programmed part of the conversation, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be friends with them for very long.

In addition, there’s no need to get paid for using Twitter. Unless you’re writing a story 140 characters at a time or publishing ‘tips of the day’, Twitter is as much about receiving value as it is about giving. The value of using Twitter is in the relationships that you make and keep, the up to the minute news that you receive from your contacts, and the ‘water cooler’ environment that Twitter fosters, not the few dollars that you could make by spamming your network.

3. Magpie pretends to be endorsement marketing, but is really just mindless shilling. If a Twitter user wants to recommend a product that they use to their Twitter network, then their network values that recommendation because the source acts as a filter, and passes along quality products that they think others would get use of as well.

With Magpie however, the source is providing an advertisement for a company that they may have never used or even heard of. Unlike a banner ad on a blog, which stands outside of the regular content, and is understood as being untested by the source unless it’s explicitly stated otherwise, Magpie messages are ‘blended’ into the message stream, and are often worded to read like an endorsement. Except for the “#magpie” tag that precedes all Magpie advertisements, the message looks like any other message, and is therefore much harder to filter.

To see if I was the only one that felt this way about Magpie, I did a little Twitter searching to find out what others in the Twitter world think about the service. After weeding through the Magpie ads, here’s a sampling of what I came up with:

Magpie Reactions

Not too positive, eh?

Sure, it’s the dream of every marketer to have people endorsing their product directly to friends and family, but when those endorsements turn into unfounded annoyances, the tables can quickly turn, and an advertising campaign can turn into a spam factory that users will actively avoid.

The Good:

  • Public conversations allow advertisers to accurately target an intended and relevant audience.

The Bad:

  • Magpie interrupts the natural flow of Twitter too frequently.
  • Magpie pretends to be endorsement marketing, but is really just mindless shilling.
  • Magpie turns Twitter into a spam factory.

The Future:

  • Companies find active users of their products through public conversations, and allow those users to directly recommend products to their contacts in unobtrusive and natural ways.

Magpie

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