Alister Cameron // Blogologist

Changing the world. One blog(ger) at a time.

Twitter for fun and, ahem, profit.

This week I made a decision. A difficult decision that shouldn’t be. I made the decision to monetize my Twitter account.

This post explains my rationale and might have to do for now as a “disclaimer” of sorts. I’d appreciate your feedback, because my “journey” on Twitter may be instructive for your own purposes, but most of all because I want your help to do Twitter better.

Firstly a bit of background…

$$s

Earlier this year I decided to get serious about Twitter. As a “blogologist” I could teach you, coach you, brow-beat you and bore you senseless about blogging, but I was not the expert “microblogger”. It’s worth pointing out here that what I do for a living amounts to continually experimenting with the World Wide Web, figuring out what works and doesn’t work, and deriving out of my work/play some best practices (or at least sensible strategies and tactics) for my clients and readers.

Getting serious about Twitter meant a few things:

  1. Bolting Twitter as comprehensively as possible into my usual “workflow”, so that it was easy for me to integrate tweeting into the stuff of my typical workday. So along came Twitterbar, Tweetdeck, Ping.FM and a few nifty apps on my iPhone.
  2. Turning my (almost) daily newsreader review in Feedly into a “broadcast” of interesting links.
  3. Learning the Twitter API and wrestling with PHP scripts to test the automation of this or that workflow.
  4. Spending ridiculous amounts of time in front of Tweetdeck talking to real people, helping them, watching their tweeting habits, discovering “subcultures”, and so forth.
  5. Messing with the Twitter API so that I can bring my followers an (almost) endless streams of Rodney Dangerfield jokes, interesting factoids or whatever else I find out there that I think is worth sharing — in an automated way so I don’t forget, and so that I keep up a constant level of activity on my account.
  6. Obsessing over the question of how fast I could grow my Twitter following, and by what means. I have developed an approach to growing my Twitter account that works for me and has nothing to do with what spammers do (or more importantly, why), but I remain daily fearful that I will be misunderstood, and most days someone does misunderstand me. In fact, they’re misunderstanding Twitter itself, but that’s a blog post for another day.
  7. Battling my conscience on a daily basis, looking at my children, and knowing that I can’t yet justify what I’m doing to my family on any sensible commercial terms. If Twitter were a hobby, it would be getting out of hand. If it’s part of what I do as a social media consultant — and of course, it is — then it needs to make sense in ROI terms.

And so to my decision to monetize my Twitter activities…

The first reason I have for monetizing it is about ROI. There are many ways I can measure the return on my Twitter efforts, and most have nothing to do with money. I really love it, for a start. It’s the most fun you can have if you’re a social animal and get a thrill out of connecting with fascinating people from all over the world (it makes every day a serendipitous occasion of one sort or another). But to ignore the need for a financial return is silly.

Now, with my blog, I clearly do receive a (very modest) financial return from it. Of course, most of what I earn is not directly derived from my blog (or blogging) and there are very few people out there for whom that is the case. I know very few people who make a lot of direct income from blogging, and the number is, if anything, dropping. Their formula involves loads of traffic leading to advertising, affiliate sale and product revenue streams. My blog is rather an also-ran in the particular niche it sits in, and hasn’t the “critical mass” of traffic to do more than give me an “income trickle”, rather than a stream.

The second reason I have for monetizing my Twitter account comes back to what I do: I play around with products, services and protocols online in order to test and prove to my clients, readers and others what works, doesn’t work and why. The question of monetizing Twitter is a huge one at the moment, and far be it from me not to go out there and try stuff. And… far be it from me not to do that with the account that matters the most to me: @alicam. Scary as that may be, if it should offend people.

So I’ve decided to go for it, despite my fears.

A Point of Order

Can I just make an important point of order, here. I’m preempting some complaints.

Twitter is a protocol, more than anything else. It’s not a website, although it has one. It’s not software, although most people use it by means of software. It’s a short messaging protocol for peer-to-peer online communications. There is not much more to say, and that’s why Twitter is so successful, to my mind: it’s really really simple and really really “open” for people to do with it as they please. Accordingly, I get upset when people tell me off for some aspect of how I use Twitter. I get equally upset when the guys at Twitter do the same. It seems we all have trouble getting it into our heads that the technology of a thing is not the same as the culture of a thing. Especially so with Twitter.

Culturally, people have become fond of describing Twitter as — and using it as a means of — friends doing online SMSs. The “rule” then follows that you should only follow people you already know. Conversely, then, following loads of people you don’t know is a contravention of said “rule” and that’s wrong. The fact that this is entirely a cultural thing, and has nothing to do with the technology, should be plain to all, and supported by the fact that this rule is nowhere written down.

Who told you Twitter was for connecting friends together only? Who told you it couldn’t equally well be used as an outbound marketing channel for businesses? Who told you to judge someone like me, with 90,000+ followers AND friends, and to deem me to have overstepped some line of propriety? I can explain exactly what I do on Twitter, how I do it and why I do it, but why must I do that? Why do I have to answer to a given set of “culturally-defined” norms?

Surely we all realize that Twitter will go the way of every other service, protocol and language on the Internet?? Perhaps you were not there, but I well recall the early-to-mid 1990s. I was there when you could get from one end of the Yahoo directory to the other in a day. I was there when the big innovation in websites was the “What’s New” page — perhaps the real precursor to the blog. And I was there towards the end of the 1990s when commercially-minded people — alleged raving mad capitalists — came and “defiled” the beautiful, innocent, pure culture of it all, with their dirty campaign emails, their banner ads and their long-form salesletters.

But tell me what you see today? As with all these things, you’ve seen them settle down into an orderly reality where common sense has prevailed and where we’ve accepted that good ideas cost money. Sure Firefox is free, but the guys who write it have jobs somewhere else. Sure Linux is free, but Linus worked for someone while he wrote it. Folks, there is a market economy behind everything you enjoy online, even if the spoils of that market are geniuses with free time who create cool things like HTML, Mozilla, XMPP, Apache and some key elements of almost the entire protocol stack that sits behind your daily experience of the Internet.

Likewise, the folks behind Twitter are struggling to move from “fairyland freeville” to a place where money doesn’t grow on trees. Behind everything online is a real business model, and if there isn’t someone will be eating canned dogfood soon enough.

Feeding off the Beast

Here’s a curious parenthesis to this: it might well be argued that Twitter has created a business opportunity for others (thanks to the Twitter API), better than it has for itself. There are perhaps hundreds of services out there which you can use your Twitter credentials to log into, which will then charge you a fee for some value-add service. This is the most wonderful thing, to my mind… the purest form of (beautiful) capitalism, and what we have previously seen with Google, MySpace, Facebook and the iPhone: a huge whale (excuse the pun) that gives life and sustenance to a gazillion tiny little suckerfish hanging off the side of it. All the big guys do it: build something massively valuable and — almost always — free to the consumer, create a comprehensive API and then invite “app developers” to get creative! And the fruit of this extraordinary model is up-and-coming new media millionaires “feeding off the Facebook/Google/MySpace/iPhone beast”, as it were. Gotta love capitalism.

Twitter MUST go down this path. Twitter is doing its best to do so. The key is the API, massive performance, massive scalability, massive reliability and — never forget — a revenue model for themselves.

Ok, I think that was an excursus on an excursus. Where was I going with this?!

My Value Exchange With You

The basis of any business is value. And here’s how I see it playing out for my hours spent working on Twitter: I will bust my butt to make my Twitter account valuable to my followers if my followers will tolerate the occasional sponsored tweet. That’s it. No more, no less.

I would like to think that my Twitter account is already valuable to my followers, so let me restate it: I will continue to tweet as I currently do (the same volume, humour, breaking news, personal touch, etc) and I will ask you to accept a tweet now and again that someone paid me to tweet; an advertisement, if you will.

When I tweet something that has been paid for by someone else (or from which I derive revenue) I will indicate it, most typically with the #ad hashtag. I will never tweet out anything that I wouldn’t personally be interested in or is “off-topic” for me or my followers. And sponsored tweets will be rare… I am fortunate to have a lot of (real) followers and I get to charge quite handsomely for the privilege of access to my “followership”. I don’t need to do much of it, but I do need to do it.

If you decide this approach of mine is wrong, then I will bid you a sad farewell and accept your “unfollow” with sadness, and conclude that like the laggards of 1995, you refuse to accept that everything has a price, and that I have to pay a price to do what I do on Twitter, as much as you should have to pay a very trivial one to enjoy my tweets in turn.

Your Turn

What do you think? Does something I say here upset you? How do you feel about sponsored tweets? Will you stop following me if you see a sponsored tweet from me now and again? Can I trust you to come on this journey with me, if I am transparent about how much I earn and how I do it? I want this to be a learning experience for all, but I know I need to be recompensed in some reasonable way for it.

Finally, I trust the great majority of my Twitter followers. They know me pretty well. They know I’m real, that I care and that I am not about to burn anyone. I worked hard to get where I am now, and I only want to strengthen it and “expand” the possibilities here.

Thanks for being a part of it!

22 Comments

Note: Commenter website links are not no-followed, in case
you were wondering... I believe in rewarding commenters!

  1. retiredrob
    Posted 7 years, 11 months ago // Permalink

    I’m all for it, carry on I’ll still be here. Maybe I should follow suit!

  2. Posted 7 years, 11 months ago // Permalink

    I think the beauty of Twitter is that you can’t see anything from people you aren’t following. So if someone doesn’t like what you’re doing they can unfollow you, and that’s the end of that. I sometimes have people have a go at me for tweeting “too much” to which my response is pretty much – there’s the door (aka unfollow button!). Everyone is free to use Twitter any way they see fit (apart from spammers. they can just go to hell).

  3. Posted 7 years, 11 months ago // Permalink

    Alister,

    First, let me say that this has been an excellent post.

    Furthermore, as you know, I completely agree with you. You – like myself – spend a large portion of our time on Twitter. Although I (and I’m guessing you too) did not join Twitter to make money, it would be nice if we could make something out of it, if only because it’s really taking up a lot of time.

    This is particularly true since this will not cost any follower with any hassle. The worst he or she may have to go through is the occasional tweet with an “#ad”. If that’s too much, then that person is being childish, in my opinion.

    I’ve created many websites for a living, though the very first one was for fun. At some point – I think a few weeks after I created it and it was extremely well received – I decided that since I put so much effort into it, why not include ads? Which I did.

    This caused my most “loyal” visitor to vanish. She used to send me 3-4 emails a day, and leave 3 comments a day – and just including the ads made her go.

    In hindsight, I actually added the ads in a really naive way – I put the ads *next to the footer* and they were practically invisible. But the very thought I may get some income out of my website was so horrible to her that she left. To me this is extremely childish and immature behavior. People like this need to grow up. Do they stop watching television or movies because the people who act in them are paid? I doubt they do.

    Eventually I removed the ads because the revenue was – what’s the best word – pathetic, but she never came back.

    My point is that you should expect some people to react like this. Whenever I’ve tweeted ads (which was *extremely* rare), I always noticed *immediately* some unfollowing. If these people can’t understand why gaining some extra income would be useful at virtually no cost to them, then I don’t think I want these as followers (it goes without saying I unfollowed them as well).

    This attitude becomes particularly ridiculous when you see some users whose tweets revolve include between 50% and 100% of ads (and no #ad).

  4. Posted 7 years, 11 months ago // Permalink

    Well thought out and written post in which you do a good job of communicating to us (the readers) your thought processes and reasoning. However it somewhat reminds me the opening speech in a formal debate environment – yes your points for monetization are all relevant and appropriate, yet whilst reading I found myself thinking of ‘the opposition’s’ counter argument. Not necessarily a bad thing as such, merely the eay in which I interpreted it.

    Regarding your actual decision, I’m not a big fan of monetizing Twitter streams. That said, I believe we’ll see this becoming increasingly common so I’m reserving the right to changemy opinionat a layer time. Presently I’m only aware of one other person I’m following who has done the same, however the frequency of sponsored tweets is tolerable. As someone else commented, the beauty of Twitter is that I get to choose who I follow, ergo, annoy me too much and I’ll simply unfollow. I’m also curious to see who / what your sponsored tweets will be advertising, hopefully they won’t be for dodgy SEO operators and social media ‘gurus’ that I’ve seen before.

  5. Posted 7 years, 11 months ago // Permalink

    If someone sees a tweet with #ad tag, they can choose to look at it or choose not to. I’d rather see a nice looking #ad than a one page website (buy this twitter follower generation tool, e-book, etc.) promotion in my DMs from someone I followed back because they appeared to have a normal website/blog listed on their twitter profile. Those one page websites really irk me.

    There are so many writers/developers out there posting such wonderful and very useful resources. I have so much gratitude for the time and energy put forth to help others along their path. Sometimes I feel as though these posts have been hand delivered on a silver platter in regards to saving me hours of research time.

    If you happened to really like a tried and true application/product/service and wanted to make money promoting it, then kudos! One develops trust with specific knowledgeable individuals out here, and it’s pretty cool. We appreciate you!

  6. Posted 7 years, 11 months ago // Permalink

    Hi Alister,

    I got to know you through Twitter, not through your blog, and you definitely earned my trust. Heck, I definitely don’t agree with everything you say, but that’s beyond the point — as you say, you’re real and open, and those are the two fundamental conditions I like from people, online and offline.

    So would I take a sponsored tweet now and then from you? Of course I would! It’s just plain common sense to monetize your “work” on Twitter.

    I’m exactly at the same point in my Tweeter “career”. I have a small but solid bunch of followers and am thinking on starting to tweet the occasional affiliate product that I truly believe in and am sure my followers will find useful.

    And reading this post is definitely helping me make my mind.

    Cheers,
    Alan

  7. Dan Butcher
    Posted 7 years, 11 months ago // Permalink

    Thorough explanation–makes perfect sense to me! I too look forward to seeing what sorts of ads you tweet–I’m still trying to figure out Twitter and all the possibilities, uses, and abuses, and that’s part of the reason I’m following you (that and all the bizarre facts and Dangerfield quotes).

    In fact, I would welcome more posts here about what you are learning about Twitter–for example, what led you to decide that a good number of humorous tweets a day was a good move? Most of those I’m following on Twitter are very (too?) focused: all their tweets point to their own blogs or the blogs of like-minded tweeters. I see value in that, but only *some* value.

    In thinking about the tweets I consistently look forward to reading (yours being in that group), all of them are a mix of personal, professional, and off-topic. For example, I really enjoy Jake Tapper (ABC News White House correspondent). Not only does he tweet links to his latest stories, he responds to a lot of replies and questions (many of them antagonistic), and then he tweets about the birth of his son, has a Twitter account for that son, and for his cat, etc. It’s a steady stream of interesting and varied stuff.

    A few months into Twitter, it makes sense to me that the tweeters with a point of view and interesting and varied content are the ones I like following, but I wouldn’t have predicted that at the start. I figured I would go with the ones who were all business all the time.

  8. Posted 7 years, 11 months ago // Permalink

    Great post Allister – Live long and prosper. I look forward to your tweets!

  9. Posted 7 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    It is some how funny that I found your blog because I answered to one of your advertisement related tweets. What really astonishes me is that you, with all this traffic, have only a “treacle of income”. There are a lot of ethical possibilities around to make money with your blog. On the top of my head I would say Amazon and recommending services you use, like your web host, are two good ones. And, btw, you write on top of the comment section “Note: Commenter website links are not no-followed, in case you were wondering… I believe in rewarding commenters!” Sorry, just checked, they are nofollow! Doesn’t matter so much for me, I will be back to read and comment more, but you should really change that text 😉 SY

  10. Alister Cameron
    Posted 7 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    Hi SY.

    You’re right about the no-follow. I was “between plugins” and have now fixed that. Sorry you had to remind me 🙂

    On the income side of thing… well, frankly, I am not a good businessman. At least, I don’t have a nose for money. I’m not wired that way. So it “doesn’t come naturally” at all.

    I love social media, blogging, etc because it is a wonderfully relational, fun and intellectually stimulating thing, and I am fascinated to see how I can help people (many in business) use it better.

    But I am not a great example of doing something well on a commercial level, and do not profess to be, much as I might like more $s out of it.

    I am not a complete lost cause tho, and have a few humble things going on. Of course, I have my main “bread and butter” work of consulting and dev, etc. The challenge is definitely in the area of monetizing the blog/tweets and such.

    I do agree about the various approaches you outlined, and have started, at least, on all those 🙂

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  11. Posted 7 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    First I want to tell you want you believe and think to get more followers.
    1. Re tweet to encourage people.
    2. Updating with the latest information
    3. Integrate Twitter with other social networks.
    4. Taking pictures and uploading.
    5. Follow people with similar interests.
    6. Update daily.
    7. Find the latest buzz and contribute.
    8. Create relationships

  12. Posted 7 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    Oops, now the links are dofollow again, glitch or my bad eye-sight? SY

  13. Posted 7 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    Alister, this is probably the single best article I have read about Twitter usage. Seriously. There are so many opinions about the “right way” to use this technology…

    I follow you on Twitter and via your blog RSS feed because you are real, honest, and offer good and valuable information. An occasional ad will not change my mind about following you. That’s irrelevant – though you are certainly right that some people will be offended. I am concerned with whether I receive value from the feed I am following – whether business information, technical information, entertainment, etc. Carefully selected ads/sponsored links can be just as relevant as any other content.

    I also appreciate your discussion about the importance of being able to monetize certain projects and activities. There is clearly an attitude held by many Internet users that everything online should be free. Thanks for weighing in on this issue with some sound ideas.

  14. Posted 7 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    Well Alister … in my opinion, if you’re spending loads of time in front of TweetDeck interacting with and adding value to the lives of others, shouldn’t you somehow be compensated for the ‘cost’ of your time?

    Don’t sweat it – rock on.

    Best,
    Scott

  15. Posted 7 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    Robert, thanks for your kind words.

    In the last 24hours, Twitter has suspended my account and it may take a little while for me to work out what the story is there…

    So stay tuned!

    Alister.

  16. Posted 7 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    Hi Alister!
    Hope you get it sorted out soon! SY

  17. Posted 7 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Finally I found an article I was looking for, thanks for sharing

  18. Posted 7 years, 6 months ago // Permalink

    Yes, it is great to make money out of something that you mostly spend your time with. So the idea of using Twitter for profit is genius. It’ll work to your full advantage most especially if you’re an avid user of Twitter. I think many have chosen that path as well.

  19. Posted 7 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    Blogging and microblogging are both an art form. People who do it, particularly people who do it well, create value in their writing just as an author of any other work does. Commercializing it only makes sense.

    Authors of novels have made money on their work for a long time and no one criticizes them for it. The difference is that a novelist uses hundreds of thousands of characters, and microbloggers use 140. I’m not sure which type of author has an easier job but both certainly deserve to be compensated for the value they create.

  20. Posted 7 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    Great post that I think stated your case very clearly. I think that monetizing your twitter account makes perfect sense. I wish I had enough followers on mine that it would be worthwhile.

  21. Posted 7 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    Yeap.We usually waste time on senseless things.
    Time for changing.

  22. Posted 7 years ago // Permalink

    Twitter had become a very powerful marketing tool in the past year. However, you really need to spend time to answer messages once you have so many followers.

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