The U.S.’s dominant e-tailer is trying to do something that even Twitter hasn’t figured out how to do: Make money on Twitter.
Last week, Amazon contacted members of the Amazon Associates program to announce a new feature: Integration with Twitter. When Associates log into their accounts, they now see a “Share on Twitter” button on their Site Stripe (a toolbar at the top of the page). Clicking the button creates a tweet that includes a shortened URL to send out of all of their followers. The monetization angle is that the shortened link includes the associate’s Amazon referral code, enabling the Associate to earn as much as 15% from any resulting sales.
Twitter users love to click on links, so this feature could boost the earnings of popular Tweeters with large lists of active followers.
The tweet text can be posted as-is or edited. If the tweet is edited, there really is no way to tell that the Twitter status update is an actual ad.
Here’s something to think about in light of the FTC’s recent efforts to crack down on sponsored blog endorsements: Many blogs (not all) disclose that they will earn money when they offer you a referral link. Even if they want to, this will be difficult for Associates to do on Twitter because of its 140-character limit. Will the folks at the FTC attempt to track the hidden advertising explosion-in-the-making on Twitter?
Is it spam or hidden advertising or both?
It’s product placement, Internet-style. Subliminal advertising is rampant on TV (Don Draper in his London Fog coat on Mad Men, anyone?), and now it’s going to show up in Twitter streams.
As to the spam characterization, it’s easy to stop following someone who goes too “commercial” for your taste. But if you follow a lot of people, you might have to wade through a high volume of self-serving, deceptive tweets about any of the millions of products available on Amazon. And the commercial tweets will be difficult to differentiate from the usual flow of status updates on Twitter — you might not be sure until you click on the link — and you may not know definitively if it was really an ad or if the poster was trying to be helpful and point out something interesting.