What’s a #spon tweet? It’s a Twitter ad, silly


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Twitter users interspersing advertisements in their stream of updates have begun adopting new standards for disclosure.

Many ads are now being marked with tags -- ‘#spon’ for sponsored tweets, ‘#paid’ or ‘#samp’ for those who received sample products -- based on guidelines released Thursday by the Word of Mouth Marketing Assn. (WOMMA). The new instructions are a response to the Federal Trade Commission’s call for more explicit disclosure from bloggers.


Which leads to the question: How effective is an ethical disclosure if the average person has no idea what it means?

The abbreviated tags were chosen with Twitter’s 140-character-message constraint in mind. Seeing #samp isn’t as obvious as, say, ‘Advertisement’ or ‘I’m getting paid to shill this product.’ But as more online publishers begin using the social media jargon, WOMMA thinks consumers will quickly catch on.

‘Our hope is that it starts becoming prevalent enough that it becomes understood,’ said WOMMA board President Paul Rand on the phone Thursday. ‘Because there is now a requirement to do so, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of it.’

WOMMA has about 300 member organizations, including Dell, McDonald’s and American Express, that look to it for ethical guidance. Those companies are told to require their clients and partners to adhere to these standards on the Web.

‘You, as a marketer, need to require that this is part of the way that you are conducting business now,’ Rand said. ‘So if you are going to be sending things out to people who are participants in social media ... you must ask them to disclose and provide them with the best means to do so.’

Magpie, a popular Twitter ad service and a member of WOMMA, immediately began incorporating the ‘#spon’ tag into users’ sponsored tweets after the guidelines came out Thursday.


‘It can be observed that taxonomies generally spread very quickly on Twitter,’ wrote Magpie Chief Executive Boris Ruf in an e-mail. ‘Consequently, I am certain that WOMMA’s guideline will rapidly standardize disclosure in sponsored conversations and thus help ensure a maximum of transparency.’

A Twitter search for ‘#spon’ indicates that not too many people seem confused by the tag. The immediate reactions appear parallel to how most people respond to online ads -- that is, ignore them.

-- Mark Milian