Monetizing the social web. It’s the hot topic headed into 2009. How can Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and countless other online services begin to see real revenue and profitability? And how can they do that without ruining the user experience and creating too much confusion on the websites?
For those familiar with social networks, those who use them daily, it is a constant debate. From the business end, we can see that value of these networks, and the amount of information they hold, so we know there is money there somewhere. From the usability end, we can see that attempts to use advertisers and third party publishers have had some negative effects on the cleanliness and function of the interface. So what to do?
Well, I am not here to answer all the questions. But I thought I would try my hand at just one. How can Twitter make money?
I noticed a few days ago that Twitter announced that they were hiring a VP of Business Operations with one clear task, monetize Twitter. Chances are that I will not get that job. But if I did, here is what I would try:
1. Charge Third Party Developers. Twitter is a great service, and its easy to use. Developers noticed this right away. Many tools have come out that made Twitter more accessible from anywhere on and off the web. Set fees to develop applications and programs that are used in conjunction with Twitter.
2. Rotate Ads Right of Screen. The Twitter interface is so clean that many people think ads would ruin the experience. But as far as I can see, rotating long sidebar ads on the right side of the screen would take nothing away. Ads can be targeted based on activity (updates, who you follow, @replies). Show a new ad every time the page is reloaded.
3. Sell Twitter Software. Twitter has many uses. In an office setting, I can see it as a means of communication that surpasses those that we use today. Why not sell Twitter software to companies for a monthly or yearly fee. Let them customize the design, add all their employees, and operate it on a different site (businessname.twitter.com).
4. Twitter Marketing Accounts. Create a new type of account, for marketers, that you have to pay for. A marketer account allows you to send updates to a targeted market of Twitter users once or twice daily. These will show up like normal updates on a person’s home page, but there will be a limited amount so the intrusion is negligible.
5. Paid Twitter Ad-ons. Similar to the Twitter Software idea, Twitter could add new services to their existing tool that one would have to sign up and pay for. Call this a Twitter Pro Account if that is what works. These could include a news section, forums, directories, finance that allow you to group Tweets together and display headline style information. This is more valuable simply because it would be easier to classify information. Charge a one-time upgrade fee or a yearly subscription that is so small that we all sign up.
So there are five things that I would do my first day on the job. Who will get the job? Will they like my ideas? Will they follow them? Will they ever read or hear them? Whatever happens, this is an important step in monetizing the social web. And all other networks can be aware of these ideas and use them in their own way. Prove to us that your inflated values make sense and that your products will bring us further than we ever anticipated.