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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  1. Spot on, but where have your social mates recommended that you take yous hols. My recommendation would be Italy (Tuscany) or Greek Islands (Corfu or Kefalonia). Guaranteed warm weather, quiet locations and very family orientated cultures, makes them idea for small children.

  2. Great post! I love the way p2p networks makes internet more human.

    As you point out: it used to be all about search for information. Now its about asking and contributing to information. The conversation is overpowering the algorithms.

  3. Hi Stephen, great recommendations... but, I forgot to mention I'm going in February - so probably going to have to go further south!

    Martin - nice line: The conversation is overpowering the algorithms :-)

  4. Couldn't agree with you more.. There's an inherent value in the information streams we produce and consume, and somehow the aggregate value of our individual spheres of knowledge and influence, and the recommendations we get from our peers leads to a value, that isn't currently being rewarded.. Completely in line with this, my prediction for 2009, is that the money currently being spent on google adwords, is going to start to be spent in the "conversations" around brands, and goods.. Thanking people who have recommended a product or a service..
    How that works, and what that looks like, will be interesting to see, indeed :)

    Thanks for sharing ;)

  5. An interesting post David. From a non-business perspective I'm interested in how these conversations might be places of resistance to capitalisation or monetization. Why must we only look at always exploiting networks of interaction in terms of capital? How can these conversations resist this fate and empower those having the conversations? A growing body of literature is already developing around immaterial labour and the monetization of affect. What interests me is how networks like twitter or can add value without making us all part of a marketing scheme.

  6. Hi Simon. I get exactly what you mean. I struggled with this each time I wrote 'money'. Insert value instead?

  7. Interesting post David.

    I agree that peer/friend/network recommendations are incredibly powerful and will continue to grow (they’re closer to being monetised elsewhere e.g. Amazon and Facebook Connect). And are more tailored and trusted by the person in question than a results page in Google.

    However, I feel uneasy about your comments re search fatigue though - think most stats and analysis will show search is still massive and growing - also that search algorithms have been including links, recommendations and user generated reviews to present the most relevant results they can for years now. Have you seen any stats to back up your hunch?

    It’s possible to ask your friends/network/colleagues too many simple questions that a quick search can answer for you (anyone who’s ever been sent the link knows what I’m talking about)!

    Have you tried the Canary Islands? Had a great hol there with a young sprog a year ago, very kid/baby friendly.

  8. simon - know I don't have stats - just my own and my friends experience. I wonder if people do search more and more - because it fails more and more. ie those who are still stuck with search are having to search more and more to get something approximating the result they wanted? How does that fit anyone else's experience?

  9. useful information, sure you do not seo yourself


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?