"Sponsored content” is a newish euphemism for “advertising.” A marketer writes something and pays a publisher to, um, publish it. It’s up to the publisher to mark the content so the reader knows it is there for marketing purposes, not as a piece of real journalism.
It’s been going on for a million years. Those multipage “articles” you suddenly come across near the tail end of a magazine, that boast how great the business environment is in, let’s say, Tunisia? Advertorials. Or, to sound hifalutin, sponsored content.
So how funny was it to watch the explosion of bunched underwear last week when online readers of The Atlantic couldn’t figure out that an “article” about the Church of Scientology (for Chrissake !!!) was “sponsored content”?
“This is fraud,” they cried. And the cowards at The Atlantic buckled and removed the advertorial.
Ignorance does not connote sponsored content fraud.
But outright deceit does. And we found it in what, at first blush, appeared to be a promising method for marketing. This isn’t “60 Minutes” stuff, but something no one else has exposed. So allow us.
A fairly new method of sponsored content involves getting a place on someone’s media property to put just the link to your content. Much cheaper than buying an entire page on The Atlantic. If readers see your link, and its headline is catchy enough, off they go to your website, for just pennies a click.
But the pennies add up, as they always do, when you’re talking fraud (see Richard Pryor in "Superman III"). Phony clicks = fraudulent clicks.
There are ad companies that claim they can speed up this process via Twitter, and make your link – thus your content – “go viral.” These middlemen tap into the thousands of Twitter users who exist just for this purpose. These Twitterers don’t Tweet about eating a ham sandwich or taking a dump. They Tweet your link, seconds after they receive it from the ad company/middleman you gave your money – up front – to.
That first Tweet of your link costs you nothing. The real money gets made (and deducted from your upfront payment) when the Tweeted link gets clicked on.
Who does all this clicking? The Twitter “followers” of the original Tweeter. And here is where the fraud takes place.
Almost all of those followers are fake Twitter accounts. Hundreds upon probably thousands. Either manually or by bot, your link gets clicked once every minute, nonstop, until your ad payment has been run dry. (You will also note that none of these “visitors” ever stay on your site long enough to read your content piece, nor visit any other page on your site.)
Let’s take a look at one such Twitter player the middlemen tap. Check out @CliffOwens3.
Open Cliff’s list of followers and at #4 you will find “Lala Woodall.” A beautiful looking gal, who has Tweeted ONCE, has 31 followers, and is following 2004 others.
Right below her is "Lamonica Wentworth," another beautiful looking gal, who has Tweeted ONCE, has 25 followers, and is following 2004 others.
Right below her is "Lana Ellingson," another beauty, with one Tweet, 26 followers and following 2006…then Lanelle Stock…Lanette Gault…Lane McGlone…and on and on for hundreds upon hundreds of fake names and fake Twitter accounts.
They exist solely for the purpose of Cliff clicking on Cliff’s original Tweet of your link. So that Cliff collects a sh&tload of pennies (which he splits with the ad company you gave your money to).
We found dozens of Cliffs, each with hundreds of fake followers. Who will instantly eat up all your sponsored content budget, fraudulently.
One often hears the gripe that Facebook’s reported user numbers are not believable. We wonder now why no one has asked the same question about Twitter – just what proportion, exactly, of Twitter’s “user base” is simply ad-bot-like objects?
Consider yourself one of the fortunate handful who will ever be tipped off to this shady practice. Tread carefully when entering the dark world of sponsored Twitter links.