How Not To Monetize Twitter


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.

Your Comments

  • bucktowndusty

    Twitter is still missing a great opportunity. There is no way we can tell if a twitter name is actually being used by the real person. Twitter could charge famous personalities and companies to authenticate their twitter handles so that people know for sure the person they are following is the real person and not some fake squatter.

    People who pay for authenticated handles get a special symbol on their pages letting people know that they are the real deal. Imagine some dude buying and claiming he represented coke. That would never happen with url’s, but with twitter, anything goes.

  • Virginia Nussey

    I don’t mind the concept of suggested users, but I totally agree about not making it general. The technology is obviously out there for more relevant recommendations. Another good lesson about being the best you can be in the online space. Love it!

  • streko

    i love ijustine’s profile says “I have been on twitter for a while – so if you have questions just ask me.” and then if you look at her replies – she has none.

  • Jeffrey Henderson

    Glad they didn’t feature me on that list, imagine 30,000 emails hitting your inbox overnight all from tweeps I don’t know.

  • Lisa Barone

    Bucktownindustry (are you really going to make me call you that?): I’m not really worried about authenticated Twitter accounts. I agree they can turn into a headache, but that’s an entirely different discussion. I think most brands are becoming savvy enough to watch for their names being registered out in social media. Or if they’re not, they should be.

    Streko: I’m not sure Justine is even a real person. I claim bot. A really, really annoying bot.

    Jeffrey: Seriously. Maybe that’s why Gmail went down last night. :)

  • Alysson

    Lisa, you never cease to make me laugh and gain a great deal of respect for you at the very same time. I love that you label a horse’s ass a horse’s ass. It’s awesome that you don’t just call out the BS, but you provide evidence of what makes it BS. And being willing to call out individuals for their douchebaggary, well…that’s just the icing on the cake. :)

  • Brent Nau

    I really believe they are trying to leverage the celebrity aspect to show how cool Twitter is for noobs. I do agree that there are better solutions for suggested users, but the profiles need to be expanded to really match like minded people.

  • Ken Jones

    I totally agree that this random sampling of 50 “Suggested Users” is far from the best way to introduce new users to Twitter. Especially when there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind their selection (and I certainly don’t agree with Scoble’s carefully worded implications that money has changed hands for the dubious privilege of being suggested).
    (As an aside: If Scoble really wanted to be on the suggested users list, perhaps he should spend less time trying to draw users over to his discussions on FreindFeed.)
    It could be worthwhile for new users to be shown a list of “Most Popular Users” but a far more effective introduction for new users would be to leverage by having people enter a few terms that they’re interested in so that they can see who else is discussing the same subjects.
    For example, if a new users states their interests as cats, kneesocks and Chris Pearson, then the top of the list of their personalized suggestions would more than likely be Lisa.
    Someone whose primary interests are bitching about Google, Disneyland and cake decorating would get Graywolf.
    And an individual who enters their priorities as me, me , me would be sent in Scoble’s direction.

  • Michael D

    I’m leary of anything “suggested” on any site. Just seems to me as another way of saying “we need to show you something to fill this page space”.

  • Kim

    I’m having a hell of a time trying to come up w/ the words to express my thoughts (how DARE you pull me out of my world of numbers!), but calling Scoble out for being a total douchebag is exactly the thing I love about your writing. You crack me up! (I hope this won’t be too disjointed or peppered w/ grammatical errors.)

    Users like Scoble, who seem to have an insatiable hunger for more followers, strike me as ego-maniacs who are trying to fill some unseeable void in their lives. I’ve unfollowed uninteresting people just for asking “me” to help them get more followers. If you rarely have anything interesting to say, I’m certainly not going embarrass myself by telling MY followers about you. I have a reputation to uphold. ;-)

    Quality trumps quantity (and that’s coming from someone who loves to play w/ numbers!), and I would love Twitter so much more if everyone saw it that way. Not that Scoble could understand that … his philosophy seems to be to point & shout at EVERYTHING in a desperate & constant grab for attention. (I’m also curious to hear how many power users like him actually follow more people than follow them. That just seems odd.) Maybe he needs to get some therapy & get over being picked on in school for being a geek, I dunno. What I do know is there’s not much that’s more annoying to me than someone trying that hard to catch my eye. Except maybe the lemmings that hang on his every word.

    I hope that the next iteration of Twitter’s Suggested Users is more personal. Even Twitter Grader uses your bio to find other Suggested Folks to Follow, although that method is far from perfect as well. At least Twitter does preface the list w/ “Maybe you’ve heard of these Twitter users?” Ohhh … perhaps that’s what has Scoble’s panties all in a bunch, maybe he thinks Twitter doesn’t think we’ve heard of him. Trust me Scoble, we have ALLLLL heard of you.

    … And just for the record, seeing iJustine as a suggestion feels like an insult to my intelligence, even if the suggestions aren’t personalized. Ick.

  • Eric

    Nice post, I’m with you. The phrase “the odds are good, but the goods are odd” rings true here: the 1,000 followers that you can actually converse with are more important than XYZ Inc. plumping their following/followers portfolio.

  • Josh

    as seth says, 1000 true fans is all you need

  • Lisa Barone

    Ken and Kim: If I could make my own Suggested Twitter Users, you two would be King and Queen. :)

  • Victoria

    If people buy power accounts then it’s just like buying links….booo

  • ChaCha Fance

    No offense but Robert Scoble needs to sit down some where, seriously. Have a tantrum over something so stupid. As if he doesn’t already get enough attention and publicity & yet I still don’t even know who he is……. SMH

  • bijuterii argint

    this will be great for businesses with twitter pages. a new and easy way to market their stuff.