Twitter Payola, Now With Extra Cheese

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Twitter is a fertile field for companies looking to take advantage of thousands of cheap, self-promotional Internet addicts. So cue the stories asking “how far is too far” for Twitter users to promote corporations for personal gain.

Today’s case: One of the top “trending” topics on Twitter is Maggiano’s, an Italian restaurant chain owned by Dallas-based Brinker International (EAT).

Why? Because Maggiano’s is encouraging Twitter users to promote the chain to their friends — by telling them to start following @maggianos. The prize? $100 in gift certificates.

“Just send the following tweet to enter: “Follow @Maggianos by 5pm CST to be entered to win $100 in Maggiano’s gift certificates.”

This is smart. In an informal count, it seems about five to 10 Twitter users are tweeting Maggiano’s message every minute. Or about one every 10 seconds. Maggiano’s now has 1,037 followers, and is gaining dozens per minute. That’s thousands (tens of thousands?) of ad impressions that Brinker International is getting for its $100 gift card (and whatever it’s paying someone to run the company’s Twitter account).

But just like email offers quickly became spam, this, too, could quickly get out of hand. So we hope that Twitter Inc. has a trick up its sleeve to let users filter out commercial messages. (Or at very least, make a bunch of money off them.) Or it could quickly lose attention from people who don’t want to get marketed to every time one of their friends wants to win free spaghetti.

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