One recent weekend, I learned that Twitter has hit the suburban dining room table. Despite its relatively new status, those not plugged into the social media environment have begun discussing the service (oftentimes mockingly, out of feigned interest and halfhearted curiosity) and misconstruing the language (Twitterbugging, Twitting, etc.).
This is likely due to word of mouth and the recent media onslaught that has even gripped local papers in the fever of Twittermania. At this very time, the media is curious as to what business model Twitter will choose. Some vague comments from Twitter's founders led the interested parties to speculate that revenue streams would come from charging company accounts, of which there are many, a fee for reaching consumers.
Cofounder Biz Stone posted a blog entry last Tuesday, refuting this speculation with the following: “However, it's important to note that whatever we come up with, Twitter will remain free to use by everyone – individuals, companies, celebrities, etc. What we're thinking about is adding value in places where we are already seeing traction, not imposing fees on existing services.”
There is no doubt that someone will have to pay for Twitter, and companies seemed like an obvious choice since they are ostensibly using the service in a commercial manner. But anyone who is active on Twitter knows the entire community is transactional; it's a veritable bazaar of information trading, services offering, and other soft or specific currency. It remains unseen if corporations will be the ones to pay for these services.
Before Stone's pronouncement, Twitter-using companies contacted by PRWeek essentially said they would wait and see what fees were introduced. Bob Pearson, VP of communities and conversations at Dell, told PRWeek, “If it became something that it isn't today... and it becomes a paid advertising platform, then it's in a different [category]... and you evaluate it differently.”
This implies that Twitter is merely the first to figure out microblogging, and that additional opportunities exist elsewhere. But Twitter is a unique service that has outlasted competitors with arguably more features and slicker design (Twitter is to Pounce what Wii is to PS3). As long as Twitter doesn't alienate the majority of its users, they will stay. Those companies that remain will earn the trust and patronage of a loyal following.
Companies can surely build their own social environment, but this is a rare chance to be part of the riffraff of personal expression. The smartest companies have employed people who actually use their names as stewards of the corporate account – employees who sometimes mess up, apologize, and vow to serve their clients and customers better. Twitter is not just a social Web service; it's a messy microcosm for humanity that keeps growing. That alone is worth a couple of dollars a month.