Can you make money from your Twitter stream? Mack Collier just did it.

Very quietly, a significant milestone occurred last Sunday night.  Blogger and consultant Mack Collier monetized a Twitter conversation.  That’s right.  Mack made money from other people’s tweets on a free and public platform.  I think this is one of the most clever and interesting social media stories of the year and Mack agreed to tell us about it in this interview.

Mack, I noticed on your well-known #blogchat that you had a sponsor for the first time.  What an achievement for you! How did it come about?

A couple of months ago I was thinking that there is SO much that I would love to do to help grow the #Blogchat community.  For example, I would love to start a blog devoted to #Blogchat, and I have transcripts from over 40 previous #Blogchats that I would love to share with everyone.  But I just don’t have time to do these things as I am trying to grow my own consulting business at the same time.

That’s when I started toying with the idea of bringing on sponsors.  Because if I could start getting some money coming in from sponsors, then I could justify spending more time and money on growing the #Blogchat community.

You noted that most of the feedback has been positive so far. How do you intend to salt in other sponsors in the future

Honestly, there may never be another sponsored #Blogchat.  The main reason why is because I am going to be extremely picky about the sponsored topics, and making sure that potential sponsors can speak to those topics. For the first sponsored #Blogchat last Sunday with Grant from Headway, it made perfect sense.  Picking a blog theme/template is a topic that #Blogchatters have asked about before, and Grant could speak to it better than I could.  Plus it was a great chance for him to get exposure to hundreds of potential customers.

So it was a win-win for everyone.  #Blogchatters get an expert covering a topic they were interested in, and the sponsor gets exposure and access to hundreds of potential customers.

But at the end of the day, I want sponsored #Blogchats to be as close to a ‘regular’ #Blogchat as possible.  If someone can join a sponsored #Blogchat in the middle and recognize it as being sponsored, then I have done something wrong.

Obviously the sponsor was attracted to #Blogchat because of the high number of targeted clients you attract each week. I’m amazed at how quickly this little property has taken off. What’s been the secret?

I don’t know if there is one “secret.”  Two things I have done that have really helped #Blogchat:

1 – I’ve encouraged EVERYONE to join.  I’ve always been of the mindset that the more participants in a conversation, the better.  And that might sound like it could be confusing, but what happens with #Blogchat is that everyone comes in under a certain topic, but as the #Blogchat progresses, this small cluster of people will start talking about this particular aspect of the larger topic, and this small cluster will talk about a slightly different take on the same topic.

I view it as a large coffeehouse where everyone is talking about the same topic, but each table is having a slightly different take on the larger topic.  So you mingle and find the conversation that’s right for you, and join in!

And I am relentless about welcoming new people to #Blogchat.  I want people to feel welcome joining and understand that there are NO experts allowed, we are all coming to learn from each other.  People respect and appreciate that, I think.

2 – I give #Blogchatters as much say into the topics as I can.  For example, one of the most popular #Blogchats are the monthly OPEN MIC chats that happen the last Sunday of every month.  This started as a complete accident.  One Sunday nite I couldn’t join #Blogchat, and I really didn’t want to cancel it because I didn’t want to disappoint everyone.  So my only option was to make it open mic, meaning everyone that joined #Blogchat picked whatever topic they wanted to talk about.

I honestly thought it would be a complete disaster, but it ended up going pretty well.  What I loved was that some of the regulars took it upon themselves to ‘police’ the group and let them know what the deal was for that #Blogchat.  The session was so popular that I asked everyone if they’d like to do an OPEN MIC #Blogchat every month and they overwhelmingly said they would, so we added it.

How long has it taken to bring #Blogchat to this point?  Do you have other ideas on how to further develop and promote #Blogchat as a brand?

The first #Blogchat was March 22, 2009.  Here’s the recap post I did the next day.

As for ideas, as I mentioned above, I’d love to get a #Blogchat blog started, and have that be more a space for the #Blogchat regulars to post, more than me.  And I really want to get these transcripts up and let others have access to them, and I’d also like to make an ebook or two with the best insights from some of our amazing co-hosts, and give that away to participants.

Personally I find it difficult to follow a Twitter chat because of the multiple, concurrent conversation streams. What advice would you give people to participate effectively in Twitter chats, especially as your audience grows?

Yeah that’s the one thing about #Blogchat that I hear the most “complaints” about.  It just moves too damn fast for a lot of people to keep up with.

Personally, I use TweetChat,com to keep up with #Blogchat.  One neat feature of Tweetchat is that you can “”eature’ tweets from a user, which means Tweetchat will add a colored band around their tweets which makes it very easy to see them as the flood of tweets passes by.

Another good idea, especially if the chat has a co-host, is to follow in Tweetdeck, and create one columns for all #Blogchat tweets, then another for the co-hosts’ tweets, and probably another for the host’s tweets.  I know many on #Blogchat use TweetGrid as well.

Thanks for relating this story of your success, Mack. How can people find you on the web?

You can find me at my site – http://www.mackcollier.com or on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mackcollier.

And I’d like to invite all your readers to check out #Blogchat, it happens every Sunday nite starting at 8pm Central.  Thanks Mark!

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  • Blogchat, in real time, moves too fast for me to try and follow. I do like looking at the transcript by searching for the hashtag at http://www.wthashtag.com to find the interesting links I missed.

    I think ads on a blog are fine. I am not sure that sponsored ads are as effective since twitter is much more of a public area. I can see how spammers would be attracted to using the hashtag during blogchat.

  • Mark

    Fascinating point, Andy. You would think that would be ripe for spammers. Will be interested in getting Mack’s take on it.

  • Hey Andy! Yeah the popularity of #Blogchat definitely attracts spammers and a few scrapers. I think the community does a pretty good job of ignoring them. I have called a few of them out but it just draws attention to them in the end.

  • For the first sponsored #blogchat, I thought it went really well (congrts Mack).

    Having multiple columns in Tweetdeck is a good option for following conversations but I prefer to use TweetReports because I can quickly jump from topic to topic and back to the main stream quickly as well as track top contributors and see the links being posted – makes for a nice reference. There’s a video about it here: http://bit.ly/b2VqVZ And when the chat is over, I can export the transcript to a single page or download a PDF.

  • Most spammers that try to take advantage of #blogchat’s audience generally get lost in feed due to the volume on Sunday night.

    The scrapers are probably the most annoying that pop up throughout the week.

  • So pleased to see Mack and #blogchat covered in this post. I enjoy watching the steady growth of #blogchat and often recommend it as a resource for bloggers from any industry of area of interest because it is so useful. I find I connect with interesting people on #blogchat, learn about tips and tools I hadn’t known previously, and have gained followers and even some readers on own my slow-to-move-forward blog.

    I commend Mack for thinking of the idea, keeping it going, bringing on valuable co-moderators and spreading it through other channels.

    Good work!

  • Kristof and Allen, thank you 😉

  • @Andy I haven’t noticed a lot of spam in #blogchat for one of two reasons:

    1) It hasn’t seemed too common
    2) I mentally block it out

    It didn’t actually seem like a sponsored ad to me, so much as grant just chiming in to help the conversation the way the rest of us do. There were a few “plug” tweets letting people know about the discount…but it got RTed…which is actually kind of cool when you start to see people invested in an idea so much that they’d be willing to put their neck on the line for it.

    #Blogchat has been amazing and Mack has done a stellar job at keeping it reigned in and not letting it get out of control.

    Thanks Mack!

  • This IS an amazing twitter story, and as many people know I have been a big fan of Mack and #blogchat since almost the very first one.

    I have been student participant, probably learning just about everything I know about blogging (and more) on #blogchat and now I am able to give back and most often add something of value. I was sort of dreading a sponsored format BUT this was done really really well IMO and I did not find it at all invasive. In fact had I not been told in advance, I might not even have realized it 🙂

    I think the analogy of coffee house is really appropriate, with pockets of conversations happening amongst friends and sometimes strangers; and there are those who “flit’ from group to group. If you try to take it all in during the chat you can become very discouraged (that’s what transcripts are for) so sit back and enjoy whomever and whatever you can, and learn a great deal. I look forward to you joining in Mark, and I’ll be there almost always, wearing my red hat as usual. @CASUDI

  • Mark

    @Chase — I agree. I tend to focus in on certain conversations and people and tune the spammers out. Thanks for your contribution Chase!

    @Casudi — This is a great testament to how Mack pulled this off with class. I know I need give #blogchat another college try but I do get a little overwhelmed. I actually do sit by and try to see what a few people are saying but I guess it is time for me to give back as you do Caroline! Thanks for the great comment!

  • Since you are so very good at the commenting conversation on your own blog, maintaining, adding value and so on, you might find you can really add value tomorrow night when the #blogchat topic will focus on comments with guest host Shannon Paul. Pick a group to CONVO with and add some choice tweets to what Shannon is saying 🙂 See you. @CASUDI

  • Mark

    The gauntlet has been thrown down! OK, now the challenge is remembering to do it!

  • D.E. Sickles

    I am not a regular participant in #blogchat but I do check in from time to time and I think Mack has gotten obnoxious with his ads. I attended when he promoted Brian Clark’s products and it was far too promotional for its worth. This week’s was better, Grant provided some good information but it will still annoying. Not to mention Mack’s tweets broke many of the FTC rules. Mack seems like a good guy but he also talks out of both ends. If it’s all about the community, how is it that he is profiting from it? For someone who professes to be a social media expert, he should have more respect for the legalities and his community.

  • Mark

    @D.E. I’m glad somebody had a dissenting voice. Otherwise, how will we grow and progress. I’m sure that there were others since Mack said that he received mostly positive feedback. Certainly you are hitting on a vital issue. Is it possible to build community trust and then monetize? We have seen backlash in other sectors so it is not surprising Mack would get it too. Still, the question remains, how do we continue to provide excellent content and services and be compensated for it? If an income for #blogchat allows Mack to justify the time to take it new levels, is it worth it? A fascinating debate. Thanks for being bold with your perspective.

  • @D.E. I’m curious to know what FTC rules Mack broke? It was a sponsored chat in which his blog post clearly identified. And, depending on perspective, teetered on overly posting updates during the chat that it was sponsored.

    I understand the FTC rules for clearly identifying posted affiliate links, but this wasn’t the case.

    Given that there’s a lot of sponsored events, and now moving into Twitter chats, it would be really helpful to know where this chat went awry so others (myself included) can avoid such issues. Can you please give us some details?

    Thanks.

  • Madison Davenport

    I think it says a lot that Mack hasn’t responded to Sickle’s claims (which are spot on, by the by.) He seems to avoid confrontation at all costs. Monetizing a community that he doesn’t own is put simply, wrong.

  • @Madison and I think it’s interesting that D.E. Sickles hasn’t responded to what FTC rules Mack supposedly broke.

  • Madison Davenport

    @kristof I am not a lawyer but I work for a very big company and according to our lawyers, if something is advertised or sponsored it has to be noted on every post, tweet, etc. You can’t just say it once on Twitter and think it covers you. Looking at the transcripts, Mack didn’t disclose (ad) or anything similar on several of his tweets.

  • @Madison Thanks. Since this is a relatively new area that I’m sure will grow, I’m interested in knowing more details.

    If a chat is sponsored, does that mean every tweet from every user needs to include disclosure or only tweets from the person getting paid? Seems the later would be more likely (?)

    If the later, does every one of his tweets need to disclose or only those that mention the sponsor?

  • Mark

    A very interesting topic. We are probably plowing new ground since as far as I know there has never been an entire sponsored Twitter chat before. I don’t see why there won’t be more, so getting a legal view of this will be necessary at some point.

  • With regards the sponsored chat and breaking if FTC standards, I don’t think either Mack or Grant did much wrong. Both posted beforehand in blog posts that it would be sponsored; tweets were posted by both regarding the Headway theme connection; and most folks knew it was sponsored.

    Where I’d be interested in the FTC take is here attendees of the chat took advantage and dropped their affiliate links into the stream without disclosing.

    I’ve asked Grant about it before even before the sponsored #blogchat and wasn’t too convinced about the company’s take when it comes to affiliate disclosure from people sharing links in tweets.

    I’ve seen people from the Headway community (as well as other affiliate communities) regularly post tweets that are hidden under URL shorteners without disclosure. Some of these people I’d never have taken to hiding the affiliate connection.

    For one thing, it’s made me think a little bit more about future affiliation if it’s allowed to continue. For another, I then have to wonder about other tweets from these people “recommending” products.

    And to me, THAT’s the biggest question – are the small bucks from affiliate sales worth the loss of trust.

    Okay, rambling rant over. 😉

  • Mark

    @Danny — This is no rant at all. Vital questions. Circles within circles, isn’t it? What is the difference between a promoted blog and promoted blog COMMENT? They’re both publishing. I get people all the time on here trying to sell something. Provocative. Superb contribution Danny. Thank you!

  • So, in the end everybody’s disclosures will fill all their 140 characters? There must be an easier way.

  • Since every chat includes its own hashtag, I think the issue could be solved with the simple addition of another hashtag, like #sp. So sponsored blog chats would then include #blogchat #sp

  • Wow! Sorry guys for not jumping back in here earlier, as I was traveling for work most of the week and haven’t had a chance to check back in.

    First, as to D.E. and Madison’s claims that I violated FTC rules by not disclosing that the #Blogchat in question was sponsored, I’d love to talk more about that. I disclosed that the #blogchat in question would be sponsored repeatedly leading up to the chat, and during the chat, on Twitter. And it was disclosed on my blog. And I don’t think it’s correct to say that you checked some of my tweets and didn’t see me disclosing it. The majority of the tweets I left noting that it was a sponsored chat happened in the hours leading UP to the chat. Not during. I believe I did tweet a couple of times during the chat noting it was sponsored, but I can’t recall how often. It’s possible that someone participated and had no idea it was a sponsored #blogchat, but if they did, I didn’t hear from them.

    But I would love to get some clarity around this issue from the FTC’s perspective, as I definitely want to make sure I am in compliance with that.

    Now I wanted to touch on another point that Madison raised: “Monetizing a community that he doesn’t own is put simply, wrong.”

    Madison I would counter that that’s for the community to decide, not you. And it’s not for me to decide, either. If the #Blogchat community doesn’t approve of the sponsored #Blogchats, and they don’t see the value in them, then they will go away. As I told Mark in the interview, there may never be another sponsored #Blogchat. As of right now, there is NOT one scheduled for November. A big reason why is because I am super-picky about who I let sponsor #Blogchat. If I don’t see a clear value to the participants from the sponsor, then it doesn’t happen. That’s how I know to be true to the #Blogchat community. And if they don’t agree, then I will be listening and work to improve the process, or change it completely.

    BTW I do wish D.E. and Madison had included links to their sites, I would have liked to learn more about each of them!

    And sorry again for missing the followup comments, I’ll try to check in more over the coming days.

  • @CASUDI thanks for the comment 😉 I definitely noted a few things I did wrong in the delivery of the 1st sponsored #Blogchat, so I am pleased that so many people had positive reviews, in spite of this. And the end goal of the sponsored #Blogchats, as with ALL #Blogchats, is to create value for the core community of people such as yourself that participates on a regular basis.

    As long as I can be true to that core community of friends, I am happy. Thanks again Caroline, and have a great weekend 😉

  • There are a *lot* of sponsored chats. Some are short-time promos which have also been referred to as “Twitter parties.” I’m not familiar with the specifics of FTC rulings but as a #blogchat community member, I’d say that disclosure is a key element in this conversation. I didn’t make it to the sponsored chat this past week but I saw lots of tweets in the #blogchat stream that announced (and lauded) the sponsored chat. There were no surprises.

    I think having sponsored chats can shift the conversation on a long-time chat community. Is the group there to learn and network, or to promote. There’s nothing wrong with sharing and promoting as long as there is transparency.

    One way to make a sponsored chat more “equitable” for the moderator and community is to set up a Win-Win-Win situation where the sponsor provides an incentive to the moderator(s), to the community (via discounts or giveaways), and for the sponsor to promote their products/services.

  • Hey Jesse I agree with your win-win-win idea for the sponsored chat to work. But I was especially concerned about creating real value for the #Blogchat participants.

    I think this happened in two ways:

    1 – I was able to bring in an expert to address a topic that #Blogchat regulars had told me they wanted to cover.

    2 – #Blogchat participants were given a discount for purchasing a product that many of them were clearly intersted in.

    Moving forward, there has to be a clear benefit to the #Blogchat community for the sponsored chats to work.

  • As I’ve mentioned in other forums before, this isn’t the first example of a sponsored tweetchat. #journchat has had a sponsor / partner for quite a while. Sarah Evans has an ongoing business relationship with Cision. I don’t know what amount (or even if) any money has changed hands over the sponsorship. She does mention them a couple of times each week, and they did sponsor someone from Twitter to join Sarah in New York when she did the live version of #journchat from NBC News.

    As long as there is transparency, I don’t see any problems with a tweetchat being sponsored. I don’t feel like Mack made money from my tweets. Like any good conference organizer, Mack facilitated a conversation between a vendor (in this case Headway) and a group of interested people (in this case, the other attendees of #blogchat).

  • Thanks Sue Anne. Just curious, do you know how often Sarah or anyone else discloses that #journchat is sponsored? I’ve never seen this mentioned, but then again I rarely am on Twitter on Monday nites to join.

    And for the record, I think it would be ridiculous to disclose in EVERY tweet that the chat is sponsored. That’s way overboard, IMO. I think the intent is to let everyone know that the chat is sponsored, but doing so in every bit of communication is unnecessary, IMO.

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