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Seeking Trust and Transparency In A Comps For Tweets Stripscape

Posted by Chuckmonster

With the rise of Twitter has come semi-professional microbloggers, people who tweet and retweet everything... targeting every trending keyword, #hashtag or retweetbot at a frenetic pace. On the night of Encore's opening, I met two of Las Vegas' most diligent 'tweeterers', almost identical brothers Chris Rauschnot and Bill Cody (@24k and @VegasBill). Bill and Chris are both super nice guys who are filled to the brim with Twitter love lust. The amount of tweeting these guys do certifies their insanity and led me to inquire, via Twitter of course, if they were Cylons. In tried and true fashion, Bill and Chris retweeted my cylon tweet, which was retweeted by a bunch of other people, and a bunch of other people after that. Two days later, the Brothers Rauschnot/Cody raised the cylon tweet subject again and started a whole 'nuther wave of it wafting off into the ether like sputter farts at a chili cook off. In addition to these amusing antics, The Brothers Rauschnot/Cody are also the official tweeters for a Las Vegas nightlife blog called MyVegasScene, adding more funky bubbles to an increasingly murky birdbath.

A week or three ago, Chris and Bill engaged in negotiations with two different casino resorts about visiting their restaurants - with the tab paid by the resorts' marketing departments - in exchange for 140 character reviews, tweets, retweets, tweetbot postings and other twitnipulations of information to their combined 10,000+ followers.

Twitter Integrity

What concerns me here is not that Bill and Chris get to eat free food on the casinos, but whether or not the concept of 'journalistic integrity' should apply to people who are using Twitter in an official capacity on behalf of a website, organization or their own microblogging 'personality brand'.

According to this article in the New York Times, I'm not the only one who is concerned. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has been looking into "sponsored conversations" in social media, and has published an 86 page draft of proposed rules to establish clearer lines between editorial content and advertising (advertorials), celebrity endorsements and product placements. The FTC states that "consumers have a right to know when they're being pitched a product."

Section 255.5 Disclosure of material connections (Page 80)

When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed. For example, when the endorser is neither represented in the advertisement as an expert nor is known to a significant portion of the viewing public, then the advertiser should clearly and conspicuously disclose either the payment or promise of compensation prior to and in exchange for the endorsement or the fact that the endorser knew or had reasons to know or to believe that if the endorsement favors the advertised product some benefit, such as an appearance on TV, would be extended to the endorser.

For emphasis, I repeat: "the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience."

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Comments & Discussion

There's no way slimy guys will ever start disclosing if they're not required to. The reason the big corps give them free kitchen leftovers is because their 'reviews' are passed off as genuine and unsolicited. If they started disclosing people wouldn't trust them, or just tune them out, and the casinos wouldn't see any value in them anymore because there's no more deception. It's not in their interest to disclose.

They're just being deceptive assholes, plain and simple. Worst than douchebags.

I grow weary of the twitter thing as well. I really only seem to use it a lot when I am in Vegas. Like everything else on the internets twitter is flooded with porn and spam (mmmmm spam). I am currently taking inventory of who I follow and will get it down to a select few so it is easier to manage. Oh and if any casinos want to throw me free stuff in return for my positive tweets I am open to offers :)

I don't think I get it. What difference does it make, really, whether a Twitter marketing account gave you a comp to a restaurant or the casino did? Does it really influence that much? Most of the restaurant workers you are interacting with, probably, are not aware your meal is free. Likewise, the casino does not want everyone else in the room to be aware that some people are eating for free.

I mentioned John Curtas' blog once or twice in the past few weeks, and here's a good example of what I mean. Sometimes he pays for his meal, sometimes it's comped, and he writes down whether or not that was the case, but does that really influence the quality of the meal? Anyone can know what he looks like, his photo is right there on the page, and in some reviews (when he's paid, even) he has mentioned having to discern when he's being buttered up for being a reviewer.

I could not recognize "24k" or "VegasBill" if I walked past them. If they walked up to me I probably would not know to give them better service unless a supervisor handed me their photos beforehand and said "make sure these guys are taken care of."

A reviewer eating a comped meal may not be able to discern quality for price (though that's not always the case, looking at my receipt I figured the actual $12 price of my "free" chicken sandwich at Stratta was better taste for money than my usual plonking of 20 smackers at the entryway to the Bellagio Buffet, taxes and tips not included.)

Basically bad food does not magically taste good when it's free, unless the person tasting is a true sucker. In the end, you are dealing with an entity that is arbitrarily giving out all kinds of valued items away for free for various reasons, from guest loyalty to sucking up the twitterati. You have to understand that everyone from the Conde-Nast reviewer to lowly ol' VT is getting at least a little bit more than Bob From North Dakota, and figure out who you trust however you see fit.


It does matter, yes.

The casino is comping customers because otherwise they'd go across the street. How many of them hop on Twitter or Facebook and extoll the virtues of said cuisine? A few but not many.

As for the Twitterers, you're assuming that the restaurant staff doesn't know they're coming. In the case of a well orchestrated marketing campaign, you'd be wrong and they would absolutely get a call from the marketing department saying XYZ person is coming in, make sure they have a good time.

Beyond that, some people in this game get addicted to 'free stuff'. They can't say know - they want more. The key to getting more of it is to make the givers happy - that often means good reviews. I'm not tagging anyone specific with this, I'm speaking in the abstract but I know for a fact this happens all the time, every day. It shouldn't be a surprise.

For me, the key to this is disclosure. Readers can do with it what they may but if I am going to review something and I get it for free, I need to be honest with my readers and tell them that. It's about establishing trust and a track record, which is why (many) people will trust the New York Times when they quote 'anonymous sources' but would be skeptical of the 'Pequoima Free Press' and probably should be.

And here I've been giving myself away for free. I feel like such a slut.

Outstanding stuff Chuck, and right on the money. I've definitely noticed it on Twitter and to a certain degree blogs and sites (more outside of Vegas then in). Journalism maybe bashed regularly for it's personal views and shoddy stories, but there is something to be said for journalistic standards and integrity, that's getting loss in Web 2.0

Don't tweet, don't facebook, don't myspace. I only VT. Usually when I look for reviews about anything, I look for the bad ones and try to discern whether the reviewer was being overly critical or if I would have cared about the same situation. For example, I tend to find that many reviewers complain about expensive restaurants simply because they are expensive.

"For me, the key to this is disclosure. Readers can do with it what they may but if I am going to review something and I get it for free, I need to be honest with my readers and tell them that. It's about establishing trust and a track record, which is why (many) people will trust the New York Times when they quote 'anonymous sources' but would be skeptical of the 'Pequoima Free Press' and probably should be."

While I don't Tweet, I appreciate your line of thinking. There is no reason why a casino (or any business for that matter) should think of reviewers and media as a marketing tool. I do facebook to a small degree, and find it not a genuine "social networking" aid. Too many ads, weird apps, and overall clutter. Luckily I "keep it real" and haven't joined any groups or added on too many apps.

While Twitter may avoid the clutter, I assumed there would still be crap I would have to deal with, and I guess I wasn't far off! Thanks! great article!

Hunter is obviously correct: Believe me... they know when a media comp is coming. No waits, few lines, best seats.

Here's my thoughts:

1. Most of the time, a Vegas experience is going to be pretty good. I've only had to kill two show reviews in the last three years simply because the show sucked. (No, I'm not going to say which ones they were). But... we approach reviews differently: We aren't trying to be a theatre critic. Almost every Vegas show has some appeal to a certain audience. I'm interested in making sure that people end up at a show they will enjoy. So, we craft our reviews to drive those people to a show, and others away from it.

We do take the media comps (saves me from paying for the tickets as I already have to pay the writer) but we rarely gush about a show or trash it. Just the facts, ma'am.

2. People following Twitter streams can figure out pretty quickly what is up. The handful of people who follow 24k and VegasBill who actually read their stuff (best educated estimate based on their TwipPic views is that only a few hundred of their followers actually are reading their tweets) are those who are wrapped up in the lifestyle and are living vicariously. These people want a kick-ass story they can ride along with, not some review of how the salad somewhere had a bug in it.

I see nothing wrong with those guys delivering that story. I think they are going to be up the creek without the paddle (and cut off) when the resorts realize how small their reach is. But that is their problem, not mine.

3. Where do you draw the line with a sponsored tweet? When we note a new concert and tweet the link to our tickets page, am I going to have to note it as sponsored? Or if I (or someone in the mainstream media) writes a matter-of-fact article about something where we went to the VIP opening, is that sponsored?

Twitter is turning out to be a great social tool, but not the most relevant business tool. (Recent study I read noted that over 50% of businesses said that Tweeting did not bring positive ROI). And with bloggers, if the blogger sends readers up a bad path, they will lose those readers. So, this whole thing will be pretty self-cleansing.

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