How Twitter Plans to Make Money

I fell asleep the other night watching Twitter CEO Ev Williams on Charlie Rose (not his fault, I was tired), so am relying on PaidContent’s synopsis of what he said. He was apparently vague on how Twitter plans to make money. Co-founder Biz Stone was less so in a conversation he and I had for the We Media Game Changer awards.

Biz indicated they’re hoping to forego traditional advertising and instead quiz their power corporate users to find out what kinds of services or features they might pay for -- a way, for example, to officially verify that a Twitter account is actually from who it claims to be. From the Game Changer essay (PDF Format):

They plan to start creating revenues this year, moving up from their original plan of 2010, asking businesses like Whole Foods, Jet Blue and Comcast -- who use Twitter feeds to stay in touch with customers -- what new features and services they might pay for. He doesn’t, he says, expect you’ll see traditional Web advertising.

Biz said they don’t know what the services would be but is confident the companies they ask will have ideas that Twitter can then turn into something that will be paid for and help create a sustainable business. He said he wants it to be an easy-to-use tool (not one-off consulting). Another idea he hinted at was helping companies monitor mentions of their names, and turn that into a commercial service.

With Twitter’s open API, though, and thousands of mashups and applications, with more every week, I can’t help but wonder if ideas like what Biz is proposing will already be developed by someone else before Twitter gets to it. What’s to prevent a third party from making a powerful way for companies to scrape and find mentions of their name? Others have already tried to integrate ads. (Twittads is one example.) StockTwits is building a business off the Twitter platform. Dell has sold $1 million of equipment, it says, off its feed. So, if there is a way for Twitter to help Dell double, or quintuple that, sure, there could be a business. But will Twitter, itself, get there first? One of the very things that has made them so powerfully successful, their openness and ability of others to use and re-use the tool, may also be a challenge. On the other hand, pundits at first said Google had to way to make money.

They don't say that any more.

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