Advertisers are frustrated. You’re all having direct conversations with friends on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the rest while totally bypassing the mass mediums they understand. Rather than consuming content all day on TV, in newspapers and on the radio, you’re engaging, one-to-one, with individuals you trust. They can’t get in the middle of that. They hate it.

So it’s perhaps predictable that we’re experiencing the rise of in-stream Twitter advertising. How do you get inside those conversations? “You pay to do it!”, they exclaim. Ah yes, so suddenly we have Sponsored Tweets, and others offering to pay users to Tweet out their ad messages. Problem solved! Except it’s not. That’s the exact same outdated model of interruption-based advertising that we’ve been trying to block out with a TiVo or an internet ad blocker. We don’t want it. We’ll ignore it.

Paid Recommendations Destroy Trust

Some envision an in-between route in which we get paid for our recommendations. So if I buy a new phone and love it, I can pass on that recommendation and also get paid., which is yet to launch, aims to profit from this model. Sounds smart, huh? Except that my relationship with you is based on trust: if I’m suddenly getting paid to make recommendations to you rather than doing it in kind, do you put as much trust in me and my recommendations? Of course you don’t.

This week I posted on Facebook about my new MacBook Pro. I’m very pleased with it. Today a friend posted that he’s ordered a new MacBook Pro based on my purchase. Do I expect Apple to pay me? Heck no: my payment is knowing that people trust my recommendations. That builds more trust.


The Web Economy = Trust + Attention

The problem: people assume that money is the web’s primary currency. But the web trades in other currencies: trust and attention.

Trust is the confidence we place in individuals and brands. I’d suggest it’s the highest form of currency in human societies: extremely hard to build and remarkably easy to lose (see Chris Brogan’s Trust Agents).

Attention, meanwhile, is the currency of abundance. In a post-scarcity world where billions of web pages cry out for my attention every second of the day, paying attention to you is a gesture that says “you matter to me” (see Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do, among others).

Twitter ads steal attention and destroy trust. That’s the exact opposite of what we need.

Advertisers: Add Value, Don’t Interrupt!

DellOutlet ImageHow do brands get their messages across if not by interrupting us? They need to become agents of trust, too.

Dell is making millions by posting special offers to its Twitter followers. Blendtec increased blender sales 5x by turning its ads into entertainment. Comcast joins the conversation simply by asking “how can I help?”. Those are just three examples from the hundreds we’ve posted in recent years.

Brands need to befriend us, build relationships, and offer so much value that we broadcast our positive experiences out to our own networks of trust. They might entertain us. They might help us. They might become enablers of our own personal goals. And when they do, we’ll return the favor. “Spend your attention on this”, we’ll say, “it’s important!”

November 29th, 2009 | by Pete Cashmore

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