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Would You Pay For Twitter?

Wall Street has doubts about Twitter's growth. Is it time to rethink giving the service away for free?

Twitter is taking a beating. While the company trumped Wall Street estimates and added millions of new users, it also announced a net loss of $132 million this week, and its stock price fell 8.6 percent after the company reported its first-quarter financials. According to news reports, analysts are wary about the slowing pace of Twitter’s growth.

Dominic Rushe, writing in The Guardian, summed up Wall Street’s concerns about the platform’s long-term prospects: “…the service may lack the mass appeal needed to turn it into a advertising powerhouse.”

Twitter’s business model is common among social sites (and many other Internet companies): you give the service away for free, which attracts users, which in turn attracts the advertisers.

But if Wall Street thinks Twitter may not survive under this model, is there a case to be made for charging users? In other words, do the people who actually spend time on Twitter get enough out of it to make it worth paying for?

I think it’s possible Twitter already has a constituency that’s willing to pay. As Slate’s Will Oremus notes, Twitter isn’t so much as social network as it is a media platform. And as a media platform, it “connects publishers with their public.”

Presumably, connecting a publisher with its public is a valuable service. Most of the people I follow on Twitter have things to promote: a blog, a Web site, a company. It doesn’t bother me that they use Twitter as a promotional tool; I follow them because I’m interested in what they have to say, and Twitter makes it easy for me to keep up with them. At the same time, I use Twitter to promote my own writing.

So is this service valuable enough that Twitter could charge for it? There must be many ways Twitter could monetize this platform outside of advertising. For instance, it could charge media organizations  for accounts. The New York Times, NPR, the BBC, Huffington Post and others might just be willing to pony up to ensure its brands and its writers have a presence on Twitter.

Or it could offer tiered pricing based on something like the number of links you post. Everyone gets a free account, but once you share a certain number of links over a specific period of time, you can’t share any more links until you buy into a plan.

This kind of pricing scheme would directly target the organizations that use Twitter as a publishing platform, without penalizing media consumers or people who use the site for status updates, swapping jokes, and live-tweeting Game of Thrones.

Speaking as a member of the tech media, I know Twitter is a key part of our company’s strategy to extend the reach of our content. If Twitter kept its prices reasonable, I could see my organization rolling the price of editors’ Twitter accounts into the cost of doing business, just like e-mail and phone service.

Twitter has built a powerful ecosystem to connect media companies with an audience, and both media companies and audiences are taking full advantage of what Twitter has built. Surely Twitter can find a way to extract some financial value from that ecosystem.

A recent article in The Atlantic declares that Twitter is entering “its twilight” and says its relevance to Internet culture is sliding toward that of AOL Instant Messenger (ouch!). And yet, a very prominent button below the story’s headline shows the story has been Tweeted more than 4,200 times (as of this posting). Is this just cruel irony, or a signal to Twitter that it might be leaving money on the table?

Do you get enough use from Twitter to make it worth paying for?

Drew is formerly editor of Network Computing and currently director of content and community for Interop. View Full Bio

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Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/2/2014 | 6:11:45 PM
Twitter should pay us
These services have inverted the traditional model whereby writers get paid by publishers. Twitter (and all the social networks) should really be paying its users...without uncompensated labor, these sites would be nothing.
User Rank: Ninja
5/3/2014 | 2:41:55 PM
Re: Twitter should pay us
On a personal level, I like Twitter better than Facebook. I believe that the people who follow me on Twitter are interested in the things that I am. That's why they follow me. On Facebook, that's not always true. Zuckerberg has long said that Facebook is a resource for people to share with friends things that they like. But I don't always agree with that business model. 

On the business side, I think that Twitter should charge for high-traffic accounts. Those users are getting mass exposure via the platform, and that has a ton of value. But I'm not sure that is the holistic answer to Twitter's problems.

Twitter should be cognizant of what needs to be done to make money on its platform; if not, the company shouldn't have gone public. 
Drew Conry-Murray
Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
5/5/2014 | 10:59:15 AM
Re: Twitter should pay us
I'd be happy to accept money from Twitter, but I don't see that happening.  : )

Daniel, I'm with you: I follow people on Twitter because I'm interested in what they have to say. And presumably, the people following me feel the same way. That makes the site more useful to me than Facebook, where I feel obligated to follow friends and family even if I'm not interested in nine-tenths of the stuff that gets posted there.

This makes Twitter a valuable resource--at least more valuable than Facebook. Maybe even valuable enough that I'd pay.

I'm really curious to see what would happen if Twitter started charging some high-traffic accounts. I'm sure the first response would be for those folks to complain loudly--via Twitter.
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