If you were on Twitter last night you probably saw the blast of Tweets about newly launched local food startup My Food Bag (MFB).
MFB delivers bags of ingredients to the door for customers to create meals designed by Master Chef-winner Nadia Lim. However, if you went by the buzz it created on Twitter alone you'd be forgiven for thinking Lim would show up and cook the meal too.
The first meal from #MyFoodBag was superb - the snapper fillet was huge and fresh, great having all the herbs and delicious recipe. Big fan.— Kerre McIvor (@KerreWoodham) March 11, 2013
Celebrities, media folk and the sociarati took to the microblogging service to share photos of their meal creations. These were then shared by My Food Bag on Twitter. The sheer number of MFB-related tweets in a relatively short time period raised the eyes of many, with some asking if they were paid promotions.
Big props to the #myFoodBag PR team who seem to have set a new standard in the mass compromisation of journalistic integrity:-)— Brett Roberts (@brettroberts) March 11, 2013
Thing is with the My FoodBag tweets - aren't they meant to be afixed with a #ad - so punters know what;s happening. Or is this different?— John Drinnan (@Zagzigger) March 11, 2013
The campaign is run by Pead PR, which has been in the spotlight before for pushing journalistic lines. In 2006, the company offerred journos the opportunity to win a trip to New York in return for using the word 'starkish' in their stories, no doubt causing many a deceased j-school lecturer to turn in their graves. In fairness to Pead, it's not a PR company's responsibility to make sure journalists stick to their guns.
It's unlikely that Pead would've paid these influencers for their 140-character endorsements (Pead denies this, see update below). Hazel Phillips, my editor over at Idealog, recieved a foodbag herself which she promptly tweeted about. Phillips says she wasn't offerred any incentive to do so, but it was suggested that she could use the hastag #myfoodbag on social networks.
This isn't uncommon. Hashtags help categorise and file tweets which would otherwise be lost in the aether. Pead applied it to keep the MFB messaging consistent on Twitter, which is standard social media marketing practice not a dastardly destruction of the fourth estate.
As a tech journalist I often receive review units (including from Pead), which I talk about on blogs and social networks. In tech journalism there's a fine line between news and marketing and more often than not what you produce is both. Yesterday's MFB tweetnami is the foodie's version of an iPhone announcement.
So we come back to the question, should journalists and media-types have to disclose paid-promotions on social networks? Yes. The Advertising Standards Authority says:
"If using paid-for Twitter endorsements – the hashtag #ad is required."
UPDATE 4:40pm: Pead PR's Deborah Pead tells StopPress the influencers were not paid and their tweets were unsolicited reviews of the MFB product.
Pead says influencers who use their social media channels for paid promotions should disclose this fact. There's nothing wrong with using social media influencers in your comms strategy, she adds.
"It has a valid place in your PR mix so use it with honesty and integrity," says Pead.
She leaves with some parting advice for budding Kiwi PR giants.
"If you want media to talk about it, don't forget to leave John Drinnan off the review list."
What's your thought on influencer promotions on Twitter and other social networks?