Hedging your bets with Twitter

It seems that everywhere I look this morning, I see someone talking about Twitter.

I don’t mean twittering – using Twitter, although there’s the usual constant of that – but talking about Twitter.

Among the pitches for marketing guides and musings about whether Twitter really is social (and even a list of Twitter’s problems stemming from a so-called ‘Stephen Fry backlash’), I noted one especially interesting thing amongst all the noise.

maketingmagtwitter Twitter might be considering how to charge businesses for using the service.

So says Marketing magazine and repeated by BrandRepublic, (both Haymarket titles, incidentally), each using the same headline “Twitter to begin charging brands for commercial use.”

That’s either wholly misleading – and if so, I think is part of why people don’t trust the media much these days – or the reporters do have a genuine inside track on precise plans from Twitter.

I suspect it’s not much more than an attention-grab (it worked when I saw the headline in my RSS reader!) as I can’t see any other commentary from anyone influential online that supports the imminence of any such act by Twitter, or even a plan.

But it has got a lot of attention on Twitter today.

I remember a similar idea expressed in Marketing VOX last November. I’ve also speculated on what an ad-supported Twitter might look like.

Whether or not Twitter is looking at some kind of charging method, many entrepreneurial spirits are already monetizing their Twitter connections.

Present.ly, for instance (enterprise Twitter-like tool that you pay for), and Yammer (ditto, free but with pay-for option). Then consider the desktop Twitter app TweetDeck where developer Iain Dodsworth is working on a Pro version (which I guess means pay-for).

If Twitter does plan to introduce some kind of pricing model, I would imagine there would be some considerable discussion out in the open (in the true spirit of Twitter conversations) on seeking input and opinion from anyone with an opinion, not only business users.

Bob Pearson, Dell’s VP of Communities and Conversations, is quoted in the Marketing story; I’m sure he’d be speaking for a lot of business twitterers:

If it becomes complicated and costly, our instinct would be to move elsewhere.

And recent Twitter business user Lovefilm:

It depends – on price, demand and what else is around.

Hedging your bets does makes sense. Yet what else is around that provides what Twitter does publicly and what 40 brands say they get from Twitter? Nothing else obviously feasible, in my view.

[Later] A few hours after publishing this post, I came across How Tweet It Is, a feature in New York magazine a few days ago that is one of the more credible assessments I’ve yet read of Twitter the company, the individuals behind it and the cultural shifts in our societies that might just help propel a communication medium like Twitter truly into the mainstream.

On the topic of the monetization of Twitter, writer Will Leitch has this to say:

[…] Neither [Evan] Williams nor [Biz] Stone [two of the Twitter founders] will get into the details of their revenue strategies, though each says that charging companies for brand verification (assuring users that JetBlue’s Twitter is really from JetBlue, for example) and for targeted prompts for users to join company feeds seems to make more long-term sense than straightforward web advertising, which Stone says “feels tacked on.” Another possibility would be charging users to “buy” friends’ feeds, almost like a subscription, though both executives are wary of any model that charges individual users.

The idea of verification could well be a service that users would be willing to pay for as, right now, there’s no clear way of knowing for sure whether someone who says he or she is, say, the Dalai Lama, really is (as it turned out in this example, it was an imposter).

This implies people’s willingness to place a great deal of trust in Twitter (see how that word appears again?). Yet I reckon many people would indeed be willing to do that if it enabled you to have a more trusted means of connecting with someone online.

There’s one easy way to do that right now especially if you’re a well-known name or personality, even a celebrity, embarking on a Twitter journey, and that is to have a prominent link from your primary web property to your Twitter account.

Here’s a good example, one that came up in a Twitter discussion last night.

Question:

ismandelsonreal1

Answer:

ismandelsonreal2

Not a perfect way to verify that someone is who they say they are on Twitter but it’s better than nothing.

This is an avenue that Twitter really should actively explore. If they don’t, you can bet someone else will.

[Update Feb 11:] Nothing To Report Just Yet says Twitter:

[…] it’s important to note that whatever we come up with, Twitter will remain free to use by everyone—individuals, companies, celebrities, etc. What we’re thinking about is adding value in places where we are already seeing traction, not imposing fees on existing services. We are still very early in the idea stage and we don’t have anything to share just yet despite a recent surge in speculation. When we do, we’ll be sure to let you know.

About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.