How Twitter should be monetised
A great deal has been written about how Twitter should monetise its service. A lot has been proposed, from advertising in tweets, charges for business users or recently even to sell slots in the ’suggested users‘ list. Another idea has been charging users in some form of a premium model – most recently this Hoax caught some attention. Now, it seems, Twitter is preparing to start some on-site text advertising.
But is that really a solid business model for the microblogging service? Web adds? Isn’t that the answer of almost every wannabe start-up on the „how do you plan to make money?“-question? I don’t think it’s appropriate.
To begin with, it has been pointed out that several kind of websites perform differently in terms of ad clicks. That’s because the likelihood of a visitor clicking an ad on a certain website depends on how close he is to an actual transaction. For exactly the same reason Google ads next to search results perfom better than ads on a social network. Ask yourself: Are you particularly interested in buying a product when you are on Twitter? I suppose not.
Moreover, and I think this point is even more valid, on-site ads on Twitter.com have one great problem: Many, especially the heavy users, use Twitter via any kind of client like Thwirl, Tweetdeck or iTweet. All these users would simply be locked out from the ads. Not that they would worry, but ad buyers certainly would. To overcome this problem Twitter would have to a) shut down the API or b) place ads in Tweets. Neither the first nor the latter seem to be appropriate.
So, back to the drawing board. How to earn money with Twitter? I think the right way would be to introduce Premium Accounts. Now, some might argue, this sounds really old fashioned, almost not web2.0-ish at all and paying for anything is very unpopular anyways. But hey, hold on. Isn’t Xing one of the few Social Networks that are profitable? It is. And its model is Premium Accounts with features that really add value to the site. „Okay,“, you might say, „but which features should Twitter offer and who would pay for it anyway?“
I think there is quite a lot space for improvements (no, not like the silly ideas from BBspot) on Twitter and some possible premium features come to my mind instantly:
I’d love to be able to Filter my received Feed by certain criteria like „only show updates that contain a URL“ or „contain one of the words A, B or C“. This would make even more sense, combined with the ability to put people into groups. Then I could say „Show me all updates from my ‚close friends‘ and ‚business partners'“ but „only these with a URL (or a certain keyword) from my ‚general contacts'“ and so on. I know that I can do this (rudimentary) with, for example, Tweetdeck but doing it directly on Twitter would be nicer. Besides, they could improve filtering quite a lot.
The Twitter website is actually quite lovely, simple in its design and can be used very intuitively. But when it comes to keeping up with the flow of thousands of messages from your thousands of contacts, the Twitter website does no longer offer comfort. That’s why so many heavy users prefer Tweetdeck or the alikes. But why letting all these potential visitors go away? Offer the users a higher flexibility in terms of how the site feels and how they use it, and they will stick around.
Therefore, modules which can be individually positioned on the site should be introduced (similar to the modules on iGoogle, Facebook or many other services). Besides the functionality already offered on Twitter, modules could be used to expand the features. For example, several modules used to display several streams of differently filtered Tweets or a module with an overview of the latest new followers.
With a bit of thinking I bet you could come up with a whole bunch of further (optional!) modules with new functionality that would help to turn Premium Twitter into an information-handling dashboard.
Since it is not unusual for a person to have more than one Twitter account (eg one for himself, one for his company), a global-level account would help managing these. Using only one login to tweet from several accounts would make things easier and the use of an external client redundant.
Just like the headline indicates.
Of course, there are most definitely other features that would add value to Twitter. These are only some ideas I think would be useful. Feel free to brainstorm in the comments.
Still, one question remains: „Who would pay for this?“. Well, I would. And I think many active users, too. Even though I have no numbers to prove it, I am quite sure that the general 80/20 rule applies for Twitter as well. It says: 20 percent of the users create 80 percent of the traffic (and hopefully soon: revenue) and vice versa. These 20 percent are the target market for the Premium Account. Many of them couldn’t imagine to remove Twitter from their list of communication tools anymore. And some of them, I bet, would be willing to pay a small amount every month to get more functions and more comfort.
Thomas Euler (@Twitter: ThomasE)