As I saw on Mashable today, it’s Twitter’s birthday. Six years ago on March 21, the first fledgling tweet flapped out into the world (or at least to a fellow employee of Jack Dorsey’s at Odeo.) From that small step, Twitter exploded, a “side project” that has taken on a branded and cultural life of its own, with 500 million accounts (called “users,” which overstates their activity in most cases.) The power and influence of Twitter are clear, but the revenue model continues to struggle, and the system is clogged with crap. As an example, I have stopped trolling my Twitter feed because it is so full of junk, and use the site only as a research function to find interesting items on particular topics when the need arises. And my tweets are automated, feeding from other sources like Facebook and this blog.
My advice to Twitter as it enters First Grade this Fall? Start charging a fee.
Think about it. How many of those 500 million people might pay for staying active? If you charged $10/year, that’s a possible revenue pot of $5 billion. Let’s say 10% of users decided to pay for some form of upgraded service. That’s $500 million worth of revenue to grab.
Alternatively, you could charge per tweet using a micro-payments scheme. Set the price at a cent per tweet, with billing only starting when the balance due hits $10. That would mean most people don’t need to pay. The bill goes through the user’s mobile phone provider or to a credit card. (A great chance to mash-up with PayPal, don’t you think?)
Folks don’t have to provide payment information right off, but if the maximum free tweet limit is hit, payment must be provided to continue.
Twitter could also charge by follower volume:
- Free up to 500
- $10 for 501-1,000
- $20 for 1,001+
Installing payment requirements on volume users would also take one step towards uncluttering the service. There are people I follow who tweet daily, even hourly. These people are giving away advice to set themselves up as experts and stay top-of-mind. It is too much, however, and merely drives me to stop following them. My friend’s tweets are lost in the stream of junk, and I have to search on their monikers to find their posts.
Keep the service focused on users, not companies.
Surprisingly for a marketing man, I am not in favor of the company-based revenue model Twitter is trying to build. It admits that Twitter is promotional rather than informational and social. The original intent of the service was to connect people with their circles (Google is making a big push here, right?). Adding a small, easily paid charge to keep the service free of ads and promotion might help Twitter to retain its cache as a cultural phenomenon for years to come.
Everyone doesn’t need to tweet, and asking those who truly use the service to support it with subscriptions may be the most viable way to keep the project going. The New York Times is proving that relying on your biggest fans to stump up the cash for a higher level of service can work. Twitter should try it, too.