News that a new company or celebrity has adopted Twitter is now daily fare, and with people offering up $250,000 for as-yet-unavailable "spotlighted" accounts, you could say that the micro-blogging service has reached its mainstream tipping point. But all this Twitter fever, and a number of the money-making strategies that the company has its eye on might actually end up undermining the real "community" that has driven its organic growth.
The main problem is the erosion of Twitter's perceived authenticity. The NYT reports that celebrities like 50 Cent and Britney Spears have hired ghostwriters to pen their tweets. (Yes, a hired gun to write all of 140 characters of text).
While it's common practice for public figures of all kinds to have staff write their blogs, memoirs and even articles under their byline, Twitter's primary appeal is that it's supposed to be a real-time stream of genuine thoughts and actions (no matter how mundane). Bringing in a writer who's trained to either type the most provocative tweets, or worse, tweet solely with the intention of driving sales, diminishes that authenticity. It's also "especially disappointing" when it comes to replies, according to one user, who found out that Internet guru Guy Kawasaki had a team of ghostwriters manning his Twitter account. More after the jump.
One way to combat that trust erosion is to be completely transparent. For example, Tweets made by Spears' staff are now clearly marked as such. But other celebrities like Shaquille O'Neal argue that Twitter is a way to really connect with fans without the traditional media constraints, and that it's too pithy a channel to warrant bringing in a professional writer: "It's so few characters. If you need a ghostwriter for that, I feel sorry for you," he told the Times.
Meanwhile, in terms of revenue-generation, Twitter is sitting on a new, $35 million cushion, so it has the luxury of not being forced to make any hasty decisions. As CNET's Rafe Needleman notes, the company hasn't openly acknowledged the recent announcementsfrom the deal with Federated Media for the Microsoft-sponsored ExecTweets, to the text ads, to the rumors of premium accountsas a formal business model.
And if that's because they're still thinking about how to bring in sponsors and corporate users without alienating the everyday users (either through Twitter becoming spam central, or by turning it into a pay-to-play popularity contest, per Dave Winer), then the wait is a good thing.
By Tameka Kee