UTV Interactive has inked an exclusive deal with IZEA, to bring the Twitter advertising platform SponsoredTweets to India.

The IZEA platform will be used by UTV to sign up Indian celebrities on twitter and other twitter users in India with a substantive following, and offer advertisers the opportunity to use twitter timelines for promotional messages.

Remember that UTV manages the celebrity interactions on digital platforms – for example, for bringing them on to celebrity voice chat services like Talk2Me* – so bringing sponsored tweets to a celebrity’s twitter timeline appears to be a natural extension of its celebrity business.

MediaNama spoke with Sameer Pitalwalla, SVP at UTV Interactive, and Ted Murphy, the CEO of IZEA, on a number of things:

On The Partnership: UTV will bring Indian celebrities and Indian advertisers on to the platform, while IZEA will bring international celebrities and advertisers. On why UTV did not build out its own platform versus partnering with IZEA, Pitalwalla said that the IZEA platform met their requirements and they wanted to focus on the advertiser end, as well as signing up celebrities.

Celebrities on board: In India, so far, the site offers sponsored tweets for Lara Dutta, Mahesh Bhupati, Rohan Bopanna, Neetu Chandra, Devi Sri Prasad, Pooja Gandhi, Tanushree Datta and Anurag Kashyap. Some of the international celebrities on the SponsoredTweets platform include Kim Karadashian, Lindsay Lohan, Maurice Edu, Tony Lucca, Diddy, Mike Tyson, Nick Cannon, Ryan Sheckler, Audrina Patridge, Dawn Richard. It’s been 4-5 days since the platform launched, and UTV is focusing primarily on getting celebrities on board.

Target Advertisers: Pitalwalla said that their initial target for advertising is those who are already on Social Media, as well as digital advertisers who allocate to social media, and are the “low hanging fruit”.

Advertising Rates: UTV Interactive said it is too early to comment on potential advertising rates for platforms, but tweeters can set their own rates. They do recommend a pricing to a tweeter depending on a mix of a proprietary algorithm and the users Klout score, as a blended average. SponsoredTweets offers two kinds of advertising formats – publishers/twitter users can charge as per Cost-Per-Tweet (CPT) or Cost-Per-Click. The clicks are trackable (probably using a domain shortener).

Revenue Share: regular twitter users who sign up for SponsoredTweets will get 50% of the billing. Pitalwalla declined to comment on how much celebrities will get.

Agencies vs Direct Advertisers: Depends on who is doing the digital and social spending.

Brand vs Performance Advertising: On what he thinks will work in India – brand advertising or people using twitter for signing up users, Pitalwalla said he doesn’t know yet because it is too early, but “The cost per tweet model will be more applicable to celebrities when we roll out, and cost per click to other advertisers like tech and media or music categories. (It is likely that) They wold buy a category and make offers to twitterers to choose cost per click opportunities”.

International Trend: Murphy concurred, saying that celebrity deals tend to be more cost per tweet based and branding specific. On whether advertisers choose to go with one celebrity or brand and do multiple tweets, versus spreading their tweets across twitter users, Murphy said that internationally, advertisers tend to spend according to category – instead of engaging one user, they target many twitter users. The company claims to have done 2,000,000 social media sponsorships with 10,000 advertisers, “worked with everybody like Fox and Volvo.” They did a very big campaign with Microsoft and Diddy to promote MS Office and other products.

User Control Over Tweets & Ethical Disclosures: Murphy said that the platform offers both the advertiser and the tweeter complete control over the transaction. The tweeter has an option to say yes or no, and they write their tweet and send it for approval. In addition, there is an automated disclosure of sponsorship.

SponsoredTweets vs Twitter’s Promoted Tweets: Twitter also offers its own sponsorship platform called Promoted Tweets, which adds a promoted trend above trending topics which appear on each users page, and – I’m not sure of this, adds ads to search results. The Economic Times had used it earlier this year, followed by Tata Docomo. Murphy said that they’re two very different services: SponsoredTweets is coming fom someone you’re specifically following, and at the end of it, the advertisers will look at the performance of the campaign, and we have tremendous performance model for them, in terms the of the information that is being shared. They are complimentary, and those who use Promoted Tweets can also use SponsoredTweets.

On Twitter’s Terms of Service? Murphy said that SponsoredTweets is a white listed application, and he doesn’t see any issue of conflict with Twitter’s terms of service – especially since disclosures are a part of the platform, and tweets are unique. “We work with Twitter – we look at their terms of service, and build those into our service.”

Our Take

This appears to be the beginning of a trend – Banglaore based TweetTheOffers has also launched a social commerce based twitter advertising platform, reports Pluggd.in. Typically, advertising begets more advertisers, and it is sometimes a virtuous cycle. The tricky part is getting the first few advertisers to attract others. Then it is about moving beyond being the flavor of the season (i.e. the sole purpose of which is to be a couple of pages in a marketing heads presentation). The goal for UTV should be to become a part of a standard media plan, which is where can leverage the lure of celebrities to bring in advertisers.

An idea that they could consider is to get those brands which are already endorsed by celebrities to also extend the campaign to Twitter – for example, Parker Pens could consider advertising on Amitabh Bachchan’s twitter feed, or Tata Sky for Gul Panag’s twitter feed. Depends on whether they are open to doing this, and there is always the risk they they’ll do it without using the SponsoredTweets platform.

The one thing I like about the service is the disclosure – often you don’t know whether someone’s tweet (especially among some gadget sites/bloggers) is promotion or not. At least there is a standard now, if not for the users, but for the advertisers.

The biggest challenge, though, is battle an adverse reaction from followers on Twitter. People are averse to advertising in their timelines, and it will be interesting to see how they react. My guess is, responses won’t be friendly.

Disclosure: Talk2Me is a product from One97 Communications, which is an advertiser with MediaNama.