Last week we launched a social media program for the upcoming Boxman Studios restaurant. The cool thing about this brand is that other than developing an identity and building a basic website that explains the concept, we're not doing anything 'traditional.' Sure, the website is SEO compliant, but we're not bidding on key phrases. Yes, we made a brochure/flier for a special event, but we're not producing high-profile 3D collateral. We're utilizing social media as the main vehicle to develop awareness for the brand, and to promote the restaurant. For more information on the campaign, click here. Also, as part of the awareness campaign, we created a naming contest for the restaurant. For information on the contest, click here.

After about a week, I think we've done pretty well. We've doubled our Twitter followers, have a few fans of the restaurant's Facebook page (we could use more, please), have received about 50 name submissions for the contest and are developing a very cool blog that will become the primary social media vehicle for both the brand and the restaurant going forward. But because we're bypassing traditional media, we have to get creative to ensure that when the restaurant launches in April, we have as much momentum as we can handle. Eventually, the food will be the thing that makes the restaurant successful or not, but we need people to try it out first – and that's where creativity comes in. 

The thing about traditional media is that it costs money. You want a radio spot – money. TV – money, Print – money. Social media – ? So I had the idea to pay a few people in Charlotte to tweet about the naming contest (JUST the naming contest), since that's the thing that will attract followers. And those followers will eventually see where the restaurant is located (as it will move daily) so that they can try the food for themselves and ultimately decide whether the restaurant succeeds by talking about it in their social circles. 

Three things about the controversial idea of paying people to promote the contest - 

1) We wouldn't just pay anyone. We'd only ask people who have been to Boxman Studios and have experienced the brand first-hand for themselves. They could always decline being paid, or decline to endorse it altogether. We'd not ask for people to be dishonest in any way. 

2) We'd not pay a lot. In fact, if the these people could take someone to dinner on what we'd pay for sponsored tweets about the contest – that would be a victory. We just want to show our appreciation for taking the time to visit the brand firsthand, and (if they wanted) pay them a little something in return. 

3) We'd not ask people to spam their followers. In fact, we'd only be looking only for a few tweets about the contest between now and March 18th to help get the word out to people in Charlotte. 

The point of this post is to be as transparent as possible. No, I would not make a public list of the people we'd ask to help out, and no, we'd not ask anyone who agrees to help out to publicly state that they're being paid to promote the contest. If these people decided to say they're being paid – that's their decision. And it would be perfectly ok with us. We'd not ask them to lie about anything – there really *is* a contest where we're giving someone $500 to name the restaurant. Look at it this way, if when the restaurant launches and someone isn't happy with the food or prices or service and they tweet their dissatisfaction, we don't control that either. Eventually, momentum for the restaurant (and the Boxman brand, for that matter) will take care of itself via social media. This is an organic space. People make up their own minds to say what they feel. The pay thing would just be a little boost for the contest. 

Anyway, this is a tricky situation, but one that I feel pretty strongly about. If Tide came to me tomorrow because I said something nice about their laundry detergent last week, and they offered to pay me $1,000 to tweet how clean my jeans were after using Tide, guess what – I'm taking it. Within reason, of course. 

So what do you think, will this work? Do people deserve to be compensated for promoting a brand or an idea within the networks they've worked so hard to build? Is this a bad idea that will backfire on the brand because *everyone* will want to be paid to say *anything* about it – or else not say anything at all? Any feedback you can offer is appreciated. Thanks for your time. 

Transparently yours, Jim

NOTE: As of Saturday, March 6th, we have decided NOT pay for sponsored tweets about the naming contest. This doesn't mean we don't appreciate people talking about the contest in this space. We do. A lot. But the idea of sponsored tweets in general is such a radical concept (to some people) that we feel that this tactic might overshadow all of the other (less controversial) tactics we're employing to promote the restaurant. I personally feel that one day we (as owners of our own networks here) may capitalize on our influence in ways that help put food on our tables or clothes on our kids' backs. Because big media companies and big brands should NOT be the only ones who capitalize from our word-of-mouth experiences.  

Jim Mitchem is a father, husband, writer and partner at smashcommunications. You can follow him on Twitter at@smashadv and @boxmanstudios.

The Ultimate Driving Experience
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Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.