Early this morning the Twittersphere was all a flutter with news that the social network was about to unveil new premium-level accounts for high-end users. This change to the service would come in four tiers: Sparrow ($5/month, 145-character limit), Dove ($15/month, 160-character limit, random celebrity follower, free t-shirt), Owl ($50/month, 250-character limit, two celebrity followers, 30 minutes of suggested list advertising) and the desirable Eagle ($250/month, 500-character limit, 1000 free random followers, three celebrities, a Twitter concierge for tweeting while you’re asleep, plus a to-die-for ‘Fail Whale’ tuxedo.)
As Evan Williams, the co-founder of Twitter said, “Celebrities and large corporations have begun flocking to Twitter for their social media needs, and growth has accelerated.Â Many users have expressed willingness to pay for accounts, and now we give them that opportunity.”
Except he didn’t. The article was a joke, but that didn’t stop it being endlessly re-tweeted and becoming a meme in itself. The news was broken by the BBSpot website, which has been called “the world’s greatest tech humour site” by The Register. Few people re-tweeting the article seemed interested in checking their ‘about’ page. I re-tweeted the article myself, but mentioned it was a joke within my tweet. It didn’t matter. It all went a bit insane for a minute.
I’ll be monitoring the impact this article makes within the Twitter network over the course of the day. As new folk logon it’s going to continue to get re-tweeted and if any name on Twitter gives it some credence it might actually turn semi-serious. As it is, many are already assuming it’s a reality. (At the time of writing, TechCrunch have written their own post revealing it to be a hoax. That should calm things down a bit. Hopefully.)
What does this tell us? One, that you need to be mindful what you’re endorsing with a re-tweet. Second, and perhaps more importantly, is this something that is an inevitability for Twitter as it looks to monetize it’s product in the future?
Don’t get me wrong – these premium services won’t be identical to that proposed by BBSpot. But as the network continues to search for ways to turn a profit it seems to be highly likely that charging some users for a bigger slice of the Twitter pie might be a logical and possibly necessary step forward.
I’ve written about this before (“Protwitter.com”). For a nominal amount Twitter could give the option to receive extras like a bigger slice of the API. As many people drift towards external Twitter clients rather than using the site itself, this will become increasingly important.
As Twitter grows, the value of your URL – http://twitter.com/username – will also grow in significance. As it is many celebrities have an odd username on Twitter, sometimes by choice (i.e., @aplusk) or mostly because an impostor or person who shares their name has registered ahead of them. Vanity URLs are pretty important on the internet and I think there’s a strong chance that Twitter will realise this and perhaps start charging celebrities and brands for the Twitter URL of their choice. (Whether they’ll ever usurp a person who happens to share their name with somebody a lot more famous remains to be seen.)
And what of ghost-writing, or the ‘EmbellishTwit’ idea proposed by BBSpot? It sounds mad, but I can see this happening. As it is, a few of the more popular brand/celebrity accounts on Twitter have a team of people behind them. What’s to stop Twitter offering the busy and the famous a professional team to liaise with the celebrity’s PR team and provide hints, tips and even tweets on the best way to utilise the service?
There are other little extras a pro account could offer, too. A facility to edit your own tweets would be fantastic. Just a 30-60 second window to correct a URL or remove an embarrassingly comedic typo.
I’d also like to see one-click threaded messaging, a convenient way to delete lots of direct messages, a short-URL facility to link to other tweets, and plenty of other stuff.
Remember Why You Got Popular In The First Place
This would all be optional. If Twitter makes everybody pay to use the service, it will die overnight. But some users I believe would definitely pay a monthly amount to get more out of the Twitter core. What’s critical is that all users, pro or ‘amateur’, end up seeing the same thing on their screens in terms of the Twitter feed itself. It’s one thing to be able to opt out of going pro, but if that means you look amateur, Twitter is toast.
The network is riding a wave of very positive and strong publicity at the moment, but things can and do change overnight. Just look at Facebook. Any new features would have to be implemented positively and in a way that was mindful of the core audience.
Let’s get serious: Twitter needs to figure out how it can make money. Plastering adverts all over every user’s home page is a possibility, but as more people drift over to the feature-packed external clients that’s not going to work particularly well. Nobody wants to see adverts within tweets. And nobody wants to have to pay to use the service.
By adopting a pro-level version of the service Twitter can take care of many fundamental problems that the power-users are facing, as well as giving them some welcome extra features. In return, these same users are paying Twitter for a bigger share of the API (i.e., bandwidth) and getting nice touches like established vanity URLs and access to a Twitter PR team.
And man, I really want one of those tuxedos.