The Only People Willing To Pay For Twitter Are Users With Over 100k Followers

The Only People Willing to Pay for Twitter Are Users with over 100K Followers

So far, I’ve only heard of two people who are willing to pay for Twitter - Guy kawasaki and Roger Ebert. If you search on Google, you’ll probably find more, but those are the only two I’ve read about. They have one thing in common - they each have over 100,000 followers. Guy Kawasaki mostly uses his Twitter account to promote his internet startups. Roger Ebert, who has lost the ability to speak, uses it to microblog and communicate with his fans. Two very different uses for Twitter.

I can see why it’s an indispensable tool for Kawasaki. He has over 250K followers, and he’s been using it to promote his site Let me give you a glimpse of how much traffic you can drive to your site - or any site, for that matter - with that many followers. When Roger Ebert linked to my article about his club in March, he sent me over 1,500 visits on that day. Excluding Google, that’s the most I’ve ever received from a single referral. And that’s just from being on the first page for about two hours. 1,500 visits in just two hours! Ebert updates very frequently throughout the day, so two hours is all you get on the first page. Back then he had about 100,000 followers (now, he’s up to almost 200,000). That’s a huge fire-hose of traffic that they can use to promote any of their products.

Roger Ebert revealed another not-so-obvious usage of Twitter. Because mouth cancer had robbed him of his voice, he’s able to use Twitter as a communication tool without sacrificing his timing, as compared to handing someone a hand-written note or typing on his computer and having it read it with a computerized voice. He microblogs about films, politics, art, architecture, video games, interesting websites, and lots of other stuff.

I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family. I use Twitter to keep up on industry news. I follow my industry contacts and get all of my movie news that way. This is the result of a happy accident when I fed Twitter my GMail contacts. Most of my friends and relatives don’t use Twitter, but virtually everyone of my press contacts use it regularly. So not only do I get news headlines, but I also get there commentary and intereaction in 140 characters. It’s the missing link between RSS and its subscribers. I find that this has replaced my RSS reader.

For the majority of us, who has less than 1000 followers, it’s probably not worth paying for - at least to me. It’s not as good a tool as Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family. Because I don’t have 200K followers, it’s not an effective marketing tool. I can also alternatively get my news aggregation from an RSS reader.

What will I be missing if I don’t have Twitter? Early box office numbers from Box Office Guru and Exhibitor Relations, especially in the rare cases when Nikki Finke doesn’t post them on Friday evenings. Roger Ebert’s tweets since most of them are original content that you can’t get from his website, journal, or newsletter. I’ll miss Jackie Chan’s tweets too. But if I have to pay, I can live without those extras.

Is Twitter as indispensable as Google (search engine), Gmail (email), Trillian (IM Aggregator) or Facebook (Social Network) as a communication tool? To me, no, and everyone of those other tools are FREE. I will not pay for something that’s less than what I get for free.

If Twitter went away, I wouldn’t miss it much, even if other microblogging sites went with it (i.e. Buzz). I can’t say the same for Guy Kawasaki or Roger Ebert though. They will miss Twitter. A lot. Both of them have large followings and can get a lot of value out of it. That’s why they, and others with huge followings like them, are the only ones willing to pay for it. The rest of us will just use Facebook , an RSS reader or IM.

On Kawasaki’s poll, about 30% would be willing to pay to use Twitter; on Ebert’s poll, about 20%. Both specifically did these polls on their twitter accounts to target only Twitter users. Ebert did his survey in response to one done by the Annenberg School for Communications, which had 0% (zero) willing to pay. I say the answer lies somewhere inbetween. As with any kind of subscription service (with the exclusion of dating sites), only the hard-core users are willing to pay for a monthly subscription, and that’s about 10-15%. The reality is probably even lower than that for Twitter - maybe less than 5% - because Twitter has a lot of inactive and automated accounts.

So what does that mean for Twitter’s future? Well, it means that they’ll have to generate the majority of their revenue from the same source that, pretty much, every website gets theirs - through online advertising. It’s how revenue was generated since the beginning of the internet, and it’s not going anywhere. Twitter has already started testing ads on their search results and will probably start rolling them out on users' twitter streams soon. Why have they waited so long? Because the click-through rates will suck, compared to content sites like IGN or Rotten Tomatoes. Low click-through rates mean lower advertising revenue. Rotten Tomatoes has roughly 8 million users worldwide; those 8 million users will generate significantly more revenue than than same number of users for Twitter. Google found out the hard way with their 900M advertising deal with MySpace. It has been that way since the birth of social networking sites. The revenue numbers in relationship to traffic will disappoint Twitter’s investors, so they held back as long as they could. Disappointing or not, that’s just the way it is, and as a company, you just have to plan accordingly. I’m sure that’s not what their investors want to hear though.

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