At long last Twitter has come up with a way to make money! I always imagined they’d do it by opening up little shops across the globe and installing tremendous loudspeakers in them. Then, they could have Leonard Nimoy read your tweets to all of mankind! I’d easily pay a dollar for that. And if even half of its 100 million users did so, they’d make….a lot! Surely enough to pay Leonard Nimoy.
Alas, they chose a different route, one a little more typical to web profiteering. They decided to put up some virtual billboards. Now, any ol’ Fortune 500 company can buy their brand a spot on the trending topics list.
The first, and most obvious, problem with this is that nobody actually uses Twitter to use Twitter. Most people access Twitter through one of the many apps available for it. When they do this, they’re not privy to the Trending Topics list.
Perhaps, though, the goal for an advertiser buying this premium placement isn’t so much to be seen, but to be talked about, and getting a spot at the bottom of the trending topics list could be the spark that sets their Twitter fire ablaze in the online community. I suppose if people like retweeting spam, and they most certainly do (as I strongly feel a good chunk of Twitter’s user base is made of of spammers), this could be a workable plan.
The other reason this idea isn’t quite twitterific is that it’s manipulative and defeats the purpose of a trending topic. The idea of the trending topics is that they will reflect what people are talking about in the world. However, buying your way onto the list, even at the bottom and marked with a “Promoted” sticker, is like buying your way through college. You didn’t earn that degree, and it belittles those around you that did.
Twitter missed some better opportunities. The easiest and most practical solution would have been PPC ads appearing in onsite search results. Sure it might not have seemed as revolutionary as buying fake popularity, but it would have been easily implemented and generated a lot of revenue where otherwise they had no revenue stream.
My idea for a Twitter business model, though, is somewhere in between. It’s inspired by the new functionality of the Retweet, which causes the original Tweeter to show up in your news feed even when you’re not following them. Twitter could easily create a “Premiere Tweet” that would show up in users’ feeds regardless of whether or not their following the person making them. This could easily be limited to one or two per day per user and even targeted so that it’s somewhat relevant.
This method would be better than simply placing PPC ads in the feed (designed obviously to trick you into thinking its not an ad!) because it would be an actual Tweet, from the advertisers Twitter account. Yes, it would still be an ad/spam, but it would be done in a way that integrates it into Twitter without jeopardizing the virtue of the trending topics list. The tweet could be clearly marked with a special Promoted icon, and users that enjoy the content of the advertweetment could retweet it if they would like.
With some rate limiting, minor targeting and exclusivity of advertisers, this could a more effective means of monetizing Twitter. It makes a lot more sense for me to see a promoted tweet from Disney in my news feed about the premiere of Toy Story 3 than to see Toy Story 3 on the trending topics list without being an actual trending topic.