How Not To Monetize Twitter

February 24, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Social Media

Sweet Jesus. Here we go again. And it’s all Twitter’s fault.

In case you were too busy to notice (or care), Twitter quietly gave us all a ‘gift’ last month called Suggested Users. It was a handy little screen at the end of its registration process that helps newbie Twitters find familiar faces to start following. Or, more accurately, last month Twitter gave us the first glimpse into how it hopes to monetize the site. Well played, Twitter.

Since then, things have unfolded pretty much how you would have expected them to. Robert Scoble is morally offended that he’s not on the list and incited a riot on FriendFeed. NetZoo shared how @LiveEarth was able to gain 90,000 Twitter Followers in 30 Days. And the LA Times Blog is also jumping in, sharing this:

Since Twitter began endorsing a handful of personalities in mid-January, The Guardian was among several entities to reap a subscriber windfall. Its account jumped from about 4,000 followers to 66,000 in about a month, according to stat-tracking service Twitter Counter. And within the last two weeks, @GuardianTech added new users at a pace about 300% faster than the previous two weeks.

Let’s be honest: Most search marketers would sell their first born for that kind of follower boom. And Twitter knows that. It knows that its microblogging platform has become a marketer’s wet dream. And now it seems they’ve created a juicy monetization model for folks hungry for the exposure. It’s advertising. Brands gets to pay for eyeballs and influence. We see it all the time.

However, if this is what Twitter is hoping to do (and that’s still a big if), they’re seriously screwing themselves for some short term gain.

The thing is, Suggested Users helps no one. If you’re a brand new Twitter user trying to get your bearings, following ijustine is not going to help you (it may, actually, make you dumber). Following Dell won’t help you either. You want to find people who are ‘like you’. People who talk about what you’re interested in, who do what gets you excited, who will argue with you. I don’t know what kind of algorithm Twitter’s using to decide that these are the 50 most interesting people that you should be following, but it’s borked. I follow some awesomely interesting people on Twitter, and that list contains only two — @Dooce and @Woot.

If you want to give users something that will encourage them to stick with it and not abandon their accounts, then suggest real users for them to follow. Be it geographically or by interest, I don’t care. Follow Mr. Tweet’s or Twellow’s model and give them real people. Different people. Suggesting the same 50 power Twitter users to everyone doesn’t show them how Twitter is beneficial to them. It shows how other people are using it as a marketing channel. That’s not the Twitter angle you want to be promoting in your registration process.

And Robert Scoble needs to get a grip. He went as far as to accuse TechCrunch and others of buying their way onto Twitter’s Suggested User’s list. I don’t think they have. I don’t think anyone on that list has handed over anything but their time to Twitter. It’s a low card to play because you’re sad you weren’t invited to the party. Especially when it’s a lame ass party.

Getting 30,000 new Twitter followers via the Suggested Users screen isn’t the holy grail of Twitter. Robert keeps crying that it’s “unfair” that others got to take advantage of something they didn’t earn. Scoble, the same could be said for you in a million other areas. And of the 30,000 new followers ijustine just racked up, I’d be willing to bet that at least three quarters of those are fake followers and people who will never give a rats ass who that silly blond girl is. Did she walk away with some free followers off it? Hell yeah, she did. Did Twitter just taint her entire stream in the process. Yeah. They did.

I look at the OutspokenMedia Twitter account and it makes me smile. We launched three weeks ago and in that time we have more than 1,000 followers. It may not be 100,000 like ijustine, but our followers are genuine. They’re people that we talk with. They’re people that support us. They’re people who are kind enough to let us know each time our site goes down (working on it!) or to suggest taglines. You can keep your 60,000 fake followers. I’ll keep the thousand or so that I trust.

I hope the rumors that we just saw Twitter show its hand are false. If not, its diluting its own system, encouraging people to fight for quantity over quality. That’s never been the strong suit of Twitter. I want them to monetize. I’ll be first in line to pay for my Twitter usage. But if you’re going to open the doors to let people buy power accounts, then you’ve just released the floodgates to hell. Even worse, you’ve invited someone else to come in and take over your reign as the microblogging champion.

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