Twitter has proven to be a powerful Internet marketing tool, allowing for an unprecedented level of instant engagement with a large audience.

It’s of little wonder why so many online businesses have embraced the platform for marketing purposes.

And whilst Twitter’s character limit may demand new methods of marketing, the underlying rules are unchanged: throw a celebrity into the mix, and you’re much more likely to see positive results. Plus, the fact that marketing tweets can come directly from the celebrity’s Twitter-shaped mouthpiece means, arguably, that the endorsement has even more value than usual.

The flipside of this, though, is that when things go wrong, though, they go very embarrassingly wrong.

Oprah Winfrey felt the sting of the Twitter slip-up last month when she announced to circa 15 million followers that she’d bought 12 Microsoft Surface tablets as Christmas presents.

The keen-eyed amongst the millions quickly noticed a problem – the tweet was posted using Twitter’s app… for the iPhone.

Strangely, though, the tweet was later changed, removing any mention of its source.

Winfrey may have been left a little red-faced by the affair, but she should be thankful that it didn’t happen in the UK, where Nike and several top sports stars were recently given a stern telling off for their Twitter marketing techniques.

Over on this side of the Atlantic, the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) demands that promoted tweets are clearly flagged as such.

In July, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Nike’s campaign should be banned after it reprimanded the firm and its major spokesman, footballer Wayne Rooney, for not explicitly pointing out that particular tweets were an integral part of a wider promotional campaign.

Many saw the ASA’s decision as being of great importance since it would go on to dictate how future Twitter promotions could be operated for thousands of firms in the UK.

Nike put in an appeal to see whether it could get the ASA’s ruling overturned, but in September it was announced by an independent team of investigators that they had found in favour of the regulator rather than the advertiser, which means the ban will remain in force.

In a statement, a Nike representative said that it would now accept the findings of both the ASA and the independent investigators. The company said that it was still convinced that Twitter users would not be confused as to the motives behind Rooney’s promotional tweets, which it sees as being obviously identifiable with its own ad campaign.

So the use of brand ambassadors on social networking sites like Twitter has been struck another blow, or at least altered to the extent that celebrity accounts can only be used for advertising purposes if very carefully formulated and labelled tweets are pushed out to their followers.

Arguably the most successful social media marketing campaigns are able to both advertise to the users and engage them in a way that does not require obfuscation. Twitter sportsmanship, if you will.

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About the author:

Oliver Pyper is senior online copywriter at ClickThrough Marketing. He writes on-page content, blogs, press releases and loads of other bits and pieces too numerous and brilliant to mention. He’s also responsible for Kate Bush: The Musical and a series of videos depicting a young man’s search for energy drinks in New York City. Drop him a line if you want to talk content solutions or Kate Bush.