Twitter has been around for a decade, but it still seems like no one really understands it — including Twitter itself.

Its stock recently hit a record low. Rumors of changes to its core functionality — like eliminating its iconic 140-character message length and doing away with chronological timelines — are rampant. And even if CEO Jack Dorsey says those changes are unlikely, it says a lot about how the world views Twitter that we really do believe they’re desperate enough to try anything to compete with Facebook.

So, if you’re always listening, Jack, here’s an idea:

Charge your core users.

Instead of changing the service so it appeals to people who aren’t using it, and then luring in advertisers who only view those users as captive eyeballs to be abused with ads… why not charge the people who already love Twitter and want it to survive?

I’m no economist, but I suspect that offering people two tiers of paid service — say, $5 per month for a “minimal advertising experience” and $9 for a “totally ad-free experience” — would a) generate significant revenue, and b) reduce Twitter’s reliance on chasing outsiders and advertisers alike.

When your users are your paying customers, you’re beholden to them, not to outsiders. And that changes everything about how your company functions. (Or, really, it keeps everything the same as it was before the IPO.)

Granted, once you IPO, you can’t go back. You have to keep growing and finding new money every quarter. That’s why I believe social companies make terrible IPOs: because going public fundamentally changes what made your service popular enough to use in the first place.

And yes, earning revenue from your users rather than using your audience as bait for advertisers may seem like heresy in the “everything should be free” approach we usually have to all things Internet… but that’s a flaw of the web’s early days, when no one thought it would ever replace print or TV or everything else we’re used to paying for.

In fact, think about everything else online that you already pay to use. You’re probably paying for Netflix and a bunch of other apps and services that you use a lot less than you use Twitter.

Hell, Buffer makes money as a Twitter scheduling service, which means it profits by offering one of the very features that Twitter itself still hasn’t integrated — thus proving that people already see Twitter as a platform worth paying  for.

Plus, this is Twitter’s one financial advantage over Facebook.

Unlike Facebook, which famously announced that it would always be free to use — which essentially damned it to  life as a glorified ad server that pretends to irreplaceable — Twitter has the ability to maximize the one revenue stream that Facebook can’t: its own loyal users, who are already in love with the service and want to see it continue to grow well into the next generation of digital experiences.

Given everything else Twitter seems willing to test, I’m baffled as to why they haven’t tried this method yet.

After all… what else do they have to lose?

You can follow me on Twitter here… for as long as it’s still around.


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