Twitter’s new sponsored account feature draws ire, confusion

Twitter has rolled out or was quietly testing a new feature that displays sponsored accounts in users’ “following” list, potentially causing confusion and – as noted by actor William Shatner – undermining celebrity endorsement deals. 

Early this morning, Shatner posted screenshots of his “following” list, which had MasterCard listed as a sponsored account. He had not agreed to follow MasterCard. Shatner’s concern was that Twitter unilaterally putting accounts in his “following” could effect his sponsorship deals, of which the actor has quite a few, if a competing brand showed up there.  

He also noticed that other celebrities and popular Twitter accounts, including Barack Obama’s, had the same promoted account in their following feed. Interestingly, Twitter showed that the actor and wrestler The Rock was only following one account on his homescreen, but when you clicked on the following link, it showed two accounts – one of which was sponsored – the Hub noticed and documented via screencapture this morning. He claimed that Mastercard showed up on Visa’s following list as well but this could not be independently verified. 

William Shatner’s Tweets were flagged by Marketland’s Danny Sullivan, who quickly posted an article on the situation. Sullivan posited that this new feature was an extension of Twitter’s promoted accounts feature, which can currently suggest accounts to follow in your Twitter stream, and did not actually automatically make you follow the brand (e.g. show their Tweets in your stream). It appears, through Sullivan’s reporting and Shatner’s comments, that blocking a particular promoted account will just cause the algorithm to suggest another one. It also unclear whether brands signed up specifically for this type of promotion or whether it’s included as part of their overall sponsored accounts campaigns. What is clear is that William Shatner is not happy.

At the time of posting, Twitter had not publicly commented, but The Hub noticed some of the accounts mentioned in this story no longer showing the sponsored users in their following feed. 

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