If you're one of the Associated Press's 1.5 million Twitter followers, like me, then you may have noticed that one of those tweets today wasn't the typical breaking news story. The AP just tweeted an ad for Samsung:
SPONSORED TWEET: Stay up to date on what's trending live from CES 2013 at bit.ly/V4uqA0 #SamsungCES
— The Associated Press (@AP) January 7, 2013
It's not like mixing ads with editorial content is unusual. This here blog has ads embedded between certain posts, and the New York Times even runs little ads on the newspaper's front page. But in those cases, the presentation of the content is categorically different: The ads are in ad boxes and are designed like ads, while the articles have headlines and are written in the signature typeface. Perhaps that's why some people are turned off. It would be weird to see an NYT article about how totally swell Samsung products are—sandwiched among the articles above the fold, formatted in the same text and dimensions of other ones around it—even if it did begin with the words "sponsored article." I guess what makes this stand out is that this is in the same format as all the editorial content from AP's feed.
I'm not making some sort of ethical j'accuse here. (The Stranger sold sponsored articles for charity for years, Strangercrombie, but that was more of a blowout gimmick than a casual mix of reporting and ads.) And Twitter isn't a newspaper, the AP needs to pay someone to run its Twitter feed, and this is apparently one way to do it. Plus the AP is a great service—for free—so ads are to be expected. But even setting aside the traditional media boundaries between ads and editorial, this third-party subtweet, if we can call it that, might be annoying folks because it runs afoul of the follower/poster contract. It's a little bit like having your friend post an ad for Toyota on your Facebook wall or one company selling your email address so you can be spammed by another company. People don't like that because it's just not what they signed up for.