Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Twitter's missing millions: How social media will make money

I have a feeling those of us old enough to use search are getting rather tired of it. Search fatigue is setting in. I've hinted as much before and more recently at /message.

Indeed my own informal research (ask the kids you know) suggests the latest generation of digital natives aren't even bothering to try it long enough to tire of it. They are skipping straight to friend recommendation. (image courtesy)

I've been doing the January thing. Searching for a holiday. What a chore that has become. Dead end after blind alley after irrelevant results. SEO without the social can do that to an Internet.

Thought: wouldn't it be good if SEO was all about an improved experience for the customer, rather than the vendor? We might be more inclined to surf the resulting SEA (search engine accuracy) with more joy in our hearts.
I digress. Search fatigue is driving us to opt for a strategy of 'good enough for me' results, by which we mean 'if it's good enough for the friend I trust, it's good enough for me'

Recent questions I've been asking of the humans Itrust on Twitter include where should I go for a holiday with guaranteed hot weather, all inclusive, safe and fun for my 4yr old with kids clubs and baby sitters. Oh and at the right credit-crunch adjusted price.

People understand what I mean by all that. And if they don't, they ask questions. People who come to know me also know what makes me happy.

We're not being lazy. We just trust our friends (our adhoc communities of purpose) more than we do search returns.

Algorithms eat your heart out.

And so to Twitter's missing millions. Everyone is asking how this phenomenon can turn all this two-way flow of conversation into cash.

And most struggle to see an answer. And I think that's because it's like looking into the fourth dimension from a world of just three.

We want to apply business models we know - ad models, banners, affiliates etc. to a networked world we are glimpsing in the corner of our eyes - a blur of a ghost we think we may have seen.

But before google gave us adsense few would have predicted such a brilliant fit with the third dimension of the digitally disaggregated world. It gave us ads that served as content by virtue of their potential to be so relevant to the content they were served against.

That was something that couldn't be done in the two dimensions of print - and couldn't be conceived of from those thinking in those two dimensions.

Twitter - and the other peer-to-peer networks which make up social media are different from the broadcast style websites which went before them. It requires a different model again to monetise.

There IS money being made in Twitter, via conversational p2p marketing. We're all buying stuff on the recommendation of those who make up our social graphs - of our ad hoc communities of purpose.

The vast majority is done with zero involvement by the brands getting the benefit. And zero involvement by Twitter.

So how will Twitter stake a claim on those missing millions?

What I do know is there IS a key to unlocking this - trouble is, not only do we not know where we left it, we don't even know what it looks like.

The adsense moment for social media will come. My guess is it'll involve a combination of conversational marketing, co-creation webs and ways of enabling production by communities of purpose.

Social media's monetisation will be less from the traditional broadcast model (cash spent to persuade us to buy the mass produced) and more from the networked world it inhabits - a model enabling a crowd-sourcing response to deliver against global, real-time niche needs.

The fourth dimension in this case is not just time, it is right now, real-time - and the adhoc communities of purpose who act in it.

And that, my friends, is not a banner ad.

It's not an ad model at all. It's ultimately a new means of production.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?