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.

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:

Answer:

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.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. David

    We should have guessed the story was coming after all recent “should the BBC be ‘advertising’ Twitter so much?” stories….I expect the Daily Mail to have a story in minutes about the ripped-off-licence-fee-payers paying for the BBC to advertise Twitter and then again to use Twitter

  2. David Kinsella

    Although Twitter have only hinted at this, it does seem like an obvious direction to try. Given the fact that corporate accounts rarely seem to be much more than a news feed, with engagement happening only where there is a person rather than a logo using the account – I think Twitter need to provide more than the basic functionality in order to charge corporates. Hootsuite (formerly Brightkit) seems to be an ideal solution for corporate Twitter usage. The ability to manage multiple accounts and schedule tweets, track links etc. – possibly makes Hootsuite a tempting aquisition target for Twitter as they look to find a business model.

  3. warzabidul

    Talking about twitter is all well and good when you’re a veteran user with hundreds to thousands of tweets under your belt and a strong core of friends that use the service but for the mid adopters it’s nothing but a number’s game. They’re on a race to find the biggest audience as fast as possible without knowing anything about twitter.

    More and more small time twitter users are also caught marketing their products rather than actually conversing on twitter so it has changed towards a broadcast rather than converstion medium. As a result the whole twitter experience has degraded.

    On the topic of marketing they should have charged for SMS before they decided to cut off sms completely in Europe. In so doing they missed an opportunity. Data plans are now so cheap no one (that means me) would think of using out dated sms for getting a message across, especially on the home mobile network.

    As to making money from twitter keep dreaming. Twitter had a strong community feel and every time you went to a meetup you’d make some interesting new friends. That is no longer a factor. No one has time for twitter.

    Just look at the numbers of people using tweetdek. They might be following you but they don’t care what you have to say, they just want your eyes for when they market something.

    In half a year to a year twitter might be an interesting platform.

    As a disclaimer I am just 200 tweets from 50,000. I have strong opinions, but that’s because I’ve spent so much time on the site.

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