A new report commissioned by Twitter and the American Press Institute, conducted by DB5, has found, unsurprisingly, that Twitter users are more avid consumers of news than users of any other social network.
This statistic, long touted by Twitter itself, confirms with unshakable certainty, that it is the social network you need to be on to be a part of the media and news industries. So, how does Twitter monetise that?
Op-ed after op-ed, over the last two years has called for Twitter to improve its monthly active users. Once and again we’ve heard that it’s not doing as well as Facebook, or even, now, Instagram, and that the entire social network needs a completely revamped strategy to attract a mass audience, even though its quarterly revenue has remained either steady or on the rise.
People still don’t seem to get that Twitter is not and will never be as big as Facebook. And, more importantly, they don’t seem to get that that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Facebook has done a sensational job of attracting an enormous user-base, and establishing itself as an essential requirement to exist as a human being.
Twitter on the other hand, is something that most people can live without.
Yet there is a particular segment of society for whom Twitter is a necessity. Journalists…
While it may be acceptable for some veterans of the news industry who are part of more traditional media establishments to elect not to partake in social media, it’s just not feasible for a young news professional to be taken seriously without being connected to what has become the pulse of news.
That’s a huge ball sitting in Twitter’s court, that gives the social network a complicated problem to solve.
Journalists and media folk in general are more difficult to market to than your average consumer. Doubling down on offering promoted posts, or pushing more advertising into their streams may not generate the ROI brands are looking for.
So, how can Twitter monetise what may be its most committed user base?
Maybe it makes them pay…
Hear me out.
Becoming a journalist has always required putting together a kit of resources, usually consisting of a subscription to your local paper (or its website), a subscription to The New York Times, and obviously devices like a typewriter (or today a laptop), a Dictaphone (mobile phone) and perhaps an old police radio (an old police radio). These are all things you have to pay for. So, there is already a culture of paying for certain services and devices that are necessary to do one’s job. Twitter could simply be another part of that tool kit.
However, we must consider what parts of the social network are worth paying for. Twitter need not put their entire platform under a paywall, but perhaps keep these focused features targeted at journalists and media professionals under lock and key.
To justify such payment, Twitter would have to customise the experience. Perhaps this would take the form of curation options that favour content from media brands the respective user looks at the most, or what content their biggest influencers are consuming and sharing.
As an example, look at what LinkedIn has done, coaxing a large portion of its users into upgrading their accounts to premium in order to access extra features like seeing who’s been viewing their profile, allowing users to visually enhance their profiles, and giving them access to other users’ contact information; improving their chances at making a connection.
The sentiment behind this subscription model could follow that of The New York Times’ and Financial Times’, where they’ve gone to the folks who value their content and asked them to pay for it. It’s no use confronting users who only pop onto the service once a year for the Super Bowl with a paywall to get into a party that’ll be over in an hour. It’s more effective to approach people who value your product to prove how valuable it is to them.
Twitter is the only social network that possesses the heartbeat of the news cycle. Its long held advantage of being the place where people go for breaking news, gives it a unique edge over the competition. But, it’s still yet to compellingly monetise this audience who are most engaged when news breaks.
Twitter’s biggest strength is its relentless metabolism for new content. Every second thousands of new tweets appear. Often what ends up trending is generated from the most average of users who happen to find themselves in the middle of a breaking story. Before this they probably didn’t consider themselves “journalists”.
Therefore, with two classes of users, the barrier to entry should be low for the masses, and high for the professionals. Which may provide an opportunity to make the free product simpler, and friendlier.
Twitter currently covers too much ground, but too little at the same time. It has a big reach, but only a small fraction are registered users, let alone significantly engaged.
An overwhelming majority of that audience is there for news. That is the audience Twitter should be trying to monetise. But much like the social network itself, the road to that is full of obstacles and contradictions.
Almost ten years after its inception, its potential is limitless, but its strategy is limited.
The answer isn’t just new features as it already has everything, save for a word-limit beyond 140 characters for tweets (which is not something that needs to change).
The answer, as always, is focus.
If Twitter were to look at improving the experience for the users that can’t live without it, and monetising that service, it could benefit from how essential it’s become to that category of people.
They’re already at the party. Now it’s time to close the tab, and make them pay for their drinks.