In recent posts, I've discussed Twitter and the ways companies are attempting to use it to drive business.
As much as I think Twitter is one of the more interesting social media platforms out there, I'm admittedly skeptical about its ability to charge fees, especially when it comes to commercial accounts.
There's a lot that can be done with Twitter already, oftentimes at no cost, thanks in large part to Twitter's willingness to allow third parties to step up with functionality that it doesn't offer itself.
The recent news that Twitter was looking at ways to charge for commercial accounts was quickly qualified by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, who added that Twitter was looking for ways to charge for value-added features, not the use of the service itself.
So what type of things could Twitter potentially offer that companies might pay for? Here are three ideas.
Integrated commercial tools. Twitter's simplicity has meant that third parties can easily build new tools around the service. This makes it more difficult for Twitter to build useful tools that companies can't find elsewhere but if Twitter can package useful commercial tools, such as click tracking and analytics, and put them together in a single, easy-to-use package, some companies might be willing to pay for the convenience.
A Twitter dashboard might consist of the following:
- Statistics. Think Google Analytics for Twitter. Data might include 'pageviews', retweets, followers gained, followers lost, etc.
- Monitoring. While there are plenty of reputation monitoring services out there, Twitter could integrate this into its commercial accounts, providing information about brand mentions and searches.
- Aggregate non-personally-identifiable information. Some commercial clients might find it valuable to know more about the people who are following them. Where are they from? How old are they? How many followers do they have? Since Twitter doesn't collect a whole lot of demographic information (like age), it might have to add it and hope that people provide it, but the value to commercial clients might justify it.
- Automated link tracking. URL shortening services are very popular on Twitter and some, like Bit.ly, provide a wealth of information. Twitter could automatically shorten URLs for commercial accounts and track valuable data about click-throughs. And it could correlate click-throughs with the aforementioned non-personally-identifiable information to give clients insights about the types of Twitter users who click on their links.
In-network promotion. Twitter already offers a list of Suggested Users. There's probably a way to promote paying commercial clients as well in a similar fashion.
Additionally, Twitter could highlight content from commercial clients. For instance, if you search for "starbucks", the search results might contain a Featured Tweets section at the top highlighting @starbuck's latest tweets. Think of it as AdWords for Twitter.
If Twitter wants to take it one step further, it could even build a recommendation engine. Post a tweet about a company or one of its products and Twitter could advise the tweeter that the company is on Twitter, potentially leading to a new follower for the company. Commercial clients would be able to provide a list of company names, brand names and product names that Twitter would look for.
Verification and name recovery. Fake Twitter profiles are increasingly problematic and many companies have lost their names to Twittersquatters.
For instance, if you're looking for Giorgio Armani on Twitter, both @GiorgioArmani and @Armani aren't the accounts you're looking for. Both accounts are inactive. There's also an @armaniexchange account that claims to be official but there's no activity so that claim seems unlikely.
As part of its offering, Twitter could verify the authenticity of companies (and celebrities) and place a highly-visible indicator of authenticity on Twitter pages and search results which leave no doubt as to credibility. It could also help commercial clients get their usernames when appropriate (e.g. the account is being used by a squatter or has been inactive).
Execution is Key
Could these ideas work? I think they have potential. But execution is key and there are quite a few areas where Twitter has to walk a fine line between maintaining the integrity of the interactions that take place on the serve and overcommercializing them.
Additionally, Twitter needs to ensure that all aspects of commercial accounts are easy-to-use, have a compelling value proposition and actually make life easier for the companies that purchase them. As Dell's VP of Community and Conversations stated, "if [Twitter] becomes complicated and costly, our instinct would be to move elsewhere."
Getting companies to spend money on a service that has built a reputation as a great free tool isn't going to be easy and despite all of the buzz about Twitter as it appears to be headed towards a tipping point, commercial success isn't guaranteed.
If anyone from Twitter is reading this, I'm available to help for a song and a tweet. On second thoughts, maybe not.