A note from the editor: on Twitter ads


Hello to our friends and readers,

As of two weeks ago, our primary Twitter feeds, @connect2mason, @GMUStudentMedia and @FairfaxVANews, have launched sponsored tweets. This is our first month and we are continually seeking to fine-tune the process. We’ve already received some feedback and we want to explain what’s going on—and why—in more than 140 characters.

Here is how our sponsored tweets work:

  1. Local businesses, George Mason University offices and student organizations all have the option to buy tweets on our three feeds.
  2. Sponsors can choose which feed they want (or multiple feeds) and choose packages of multiple tweets.
  3. We have a certain stock of sponsored tweets. Specifically, there is no more than one sponsored tweet a day on any given account. (This means that, even if you follow all three, you won’t see more than three ads a day. Even if you see that many, they are going to be at different times of the day).
  4. No advertiser can buy more than two tweets a week on any given account.
  5. We have oversight over the content of sponsored tweets (the right to refuse any text) and often work with advertisers to help them compose posts.
  6. All sponsored tweets are marked with ‘#ad’ at the end. If someone has paid for a tweet, you will know it. (This seemed like the clearest way to do it. If you think notation at the beginning would be better, or have another idea, let us know).
  7. We do not direct sponsored tweets at people, except the advertisers themselves.
  8. We often schedule sponsored tweets for release in advance.

Our goal with sponsored tweets is to continue to provide you with useful and fun information, and to create content. None of our tweets are formulated to be intrusive or offensive. We want you, who participate with us through services like Twitter, to have access to interesting content through sponsored tweets.

We work with the advertisers to ensure that tweets that go on our network of accounts are relevant to our audience. We even try to craft different styles of tweets for different accounts.

Why sponsored tweets?

One common misconception our office encounters is that Broadside is completely, or mostly, funded by the university. While this would be pretty cool if true, it is not. Broadside does receive some funding, but it is miniscule compared to the costs the paper faces. In order to print an issue every week, Broadside must sell ads.

Broadside is not the only Student Media outlet that needs self-generated revenue. WGMU and many of our literary journals also find sources of revenue and use those funds to help provide you with content and innovative ways (like Twitter) to access it.

As much as we’d like to be able to run Connect2Mason and the rest of our web presence for free, there are significant costs involved in procuring a reliable web host, purchasing and maintaining equipment, providing training and building content.

Since its founding, Connect2Mason has been running on funding provided by the university in order to help launch the site and get everything running; however, those funds are limited, even more so with the state of the economy and budget crunch. Like any start-up (except Twitter, I guess), there is a time when the business needs to be able to stand up on its own.

For Connect2Mason to continue to exist—for you to continue to receive content, see videos and get breaking news on what’s going on with George Mason University—we need to make money. That means advertising.

On the web, advertising is not quite as simple as in print. To be perfectly honest, no one has really perfected a way for a news organization to make money online. It’s important to always try new things and find new ways to create revenue. If we don’t innovate with our advertising, it becomes a lot harder to make money.

Twitter ads are our way to use the long-tail model to build revenue. They are low cost, both for us to create and for advertisers to buy. Our hope is that the purchase of many small advertising products over time will result in significant gain. Advertisers, especially your favorite local businesses that may not have a lot of money to burn, should find inexpensive options like these tweets as attractive ways to get more information about things you enjoy out to you.

Have complaints?

Twitter ads are something completely new. As far as we know, no other student media organizations have tried this, and, trust me, we’ve looked around. No other mainstream news organization has tried it either, as far as I’ve seen, or if they have, they have not been honest about it.

We’re taking a chance, not just that the ads will work or that advertisers will buy them, but that you, the folks participating with us in this experiment, will understand that there are costs associated with being online and providing content.

However, with social media and college media, we both have equal status. We want you to have a stake in what Student Media builds and that means a stake in how revenue generation works.

Please send us your critiques, concerns and feedback about all of this. We want to know how you feel, objections about specific tweets, or anything that you believe would help us better work with you.

My name is Kevin Loker. I’m Connect2Mason’s executive editor, and a year ago I was involved with the concept of Twitter ads when it was first pitched. I, and everyone else, really do want to know what you think. I’ve embedded a Facebook comment field below to help reveal this discussion to all of our participants.

In addition, I want you to be able to reach me with any immediate concerns you might have.

    Here is my e-mail: exec.editor@connect2mason.com
    Here is my Twitter: @kevinloker
    Here is my office phone: (703) 993-9092
    Also, my Skype: kr.loker

I can’t guarantee that I will be able to respond immediately to you through any of these outlets, but I will try and respond as soon as possible.

Thank you for reading.
- Kevin


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