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Would you pay to tweet?

I’m amazed this video isn’t being shared more widely…

Under the new rules that Twitter might roll out, paying users of Twitter will “outrank” non-paying users when it comes to visibility. The original purpose of the blue tick, which was to verify people with public identities were who they said they were, will be replaced by a two-tier system of paying and non-paying users. Elon Musk is right, for a lot of Twitter users $8 is what they pay for a latte – but will they pay that to use Twitter or will they flee to an alternative platform they can use for free?

Uncomfortable Fact: “Your” community belonged to Twitter

(That’s Bill Gates, not Elon Musk but… you get the picture)

I’m seeing many people in my writing community express genuine concern that they will lose access to their community as a consequence of what is happening with Twitter. The sad truth is that if you think you have/had a community on Twitter… you’re wrong. It was never “your” community. It belonged to Twitter. The platform belonged to them, the data belonged to them, and they sold it. Now, the business model may be changing. It could be the greatest “bait and switch” in social media history so far – create a community, sell it, then get the users to buy it back on a never-ending rental model. Nice work if you can get it and an object reminder that if the product is free then YOU are the product.

Back when I wrote “The Truth about SEO” and was working as a consultant with businesses and brands who were building their online presence, I repeatedly warned about the dangers of building your business on someone else’s platform. If you don’t own your customer/community data then it means that someone else does.

Should you pay for “Twitter Blue”?

My guess is that if Twitter goes ahead with this the platform will be barely functional for anyone who wants to tweet unless they pay the $8 a month. You could write the tweet of all tweets, a magnum opus in 240 characters that would break the heart and steal the soul of all who read it but nobody would because, without that blue tick, you’re getting buried under Crazy Joes Second Hand Tyre and Fried Chicken Emporium. That may be less of a problem than it sounds, however.

50% of Twitter users post less than 5 times a month. When these “lurkers” do tweet, it’s most likely to be as a reply to someone else’s message rather than starting a new thread of their own. By contrast, it’s around 10% of Twitter users who create 80% of the content on the site.

These are the users that Elon Musk is targeting with his new Twitter; the low and mid-tier influencers who haven’t reached “blue tick” status yet but that have invested significantly in their online presence and don’t want to start again on a new platform. Combine that group with businesses who will see (or be advised) that getting a “blue tick” is a mandatory part of presenting their brand on Twitter and you have a decent size customer base for the new incarnation of “Twitter Blue”.

So, should you pay? If you’re a “lurker”, absolutely not. If you only use Twitter to keep in touch with a small group of friends and like-minded people? Probably not. If you’re using Twitter to build an online brand or promote yourself in any way though, a blue tic will soon be mandatory.

Why not Plan B: Pay the Creators?

Here’s a question… If 10% of users are making Twitter the place that 90% of its users want to visit, why would you risk losing them? Surely it makes more sense to double down on those users and ensure that they stay on the platform? Seems logical but the reasons Musk may not be thinking in this way are twofold:

  1. He thinks Twitter is too big for celebrities and public figures to walk away from
  2. He thinks of the rest of humanity as “useful humanoid robots”

Take a look at the second clip below where Musk waits a painful amount of time for applause as he predicts a future of unlimited economic growth because of an unlimited number of robots (that somehow our fixed-size, fixed-resource planet will accommodate).

The truth that Musk has probably latched on to here is that most of the 10% of Twitter users who create content are replaceable. There are more “useful humans” still available to him, even if some of the existing creators decide to walk away.

How to protect yourself against the Twitterpocalypse

I’ve always been an advocate of posting content to multiple channels and of using your own website as your primary online presence. It’s a more difficult route because “walled gardens” like Twitter, Facebook, etc. don’t like you posting links that take users off their platform (if Twitter Blue means the algorithm no longer hates links, maybe I’ll be putting my $8/month down!) but it is ultimately more sustainable.

Having a presence on multiple platforms reduces the risk of losing access to a community and increases the number of people you are able to reach. You may think Mastodon is too much like hard work or that TikTok dances are too hard on the hips but coming to platforms late only makes it harder to develop your presence.

A Prediction: Twitter’s Future is Pay to Play

I predicted that Twitter might become a paid service some time ago, along with the risk posed by decentralised platforms such as Mastodon and Jack Dorsey’s “Blue Sky”.

As a subscription service, Twitter could have a vibrant future but I suspect that this would be short-lived. We are seeing proof that social media platforms have a shelf life; each new generation of consumers tends to gravitate towards platforms that their parents don’t use. Facebook and Twitter are both suffering heavy attrition to TikTok for example (a platform that, currently, also does not charge its users to post content). Unless it finds away to attract new users, the benefits of being on Twitter will diminish. If those users who may feel compelled to stick with Twitter and pay to maintain their communities there also start to lose interest, or find that $8 isn’t worth it, Twitter could eventually start to feel more like a graveyard than “the world’s town square”.

Unlike Twitter’s blue check mark however, you normally only have to pay for your grave once.