The Case for Twitter Premium Accounts

June 15, 2012

It would make a lot of sense for companies to be able to have premium accounts on Twitter.

Consider the following use case:

Many companies have multiple users interacting with their customers on Twitter. For example, Southwest Airlines ( @SouthwestAir) has several customer service folks tweeting to users and addressing user questions (eg: @SouthwestWhit). Similarly Whole Foods (@WholeFoods) has dozens of tweeters including for Cheese (@WFMCheese ), Wines (@WFMWineGuys ) and for individual locations (@WFMMetroDetroit). All of these are individual accounts, even though they work for the same company.

A better approach would be to let companies have premium ‘umbrella’ accounts with multiple handles under the umbrella account. For example, Southwest Airlines would have a master umbrella account and individual reps have ‘official’ Southwest handles under this account. This will help companies streamline their Twitter communication.

Another big benefit of such an approach is that it would address questions of whether an employee’s Twitter handle belongs to them or their company.  With corporate accounts, the handle would clearly belong to the company. Of course, employees could have their own personal handles as well separately.

An extension of the premium account concept is to let companies have their own pages/ mini-portals on Twitter, where they can engage with users in a structured manner. These mini-portals can also offer enhanced functionality such as Buy buttons, Coupon downloads or Customer Service ‘conversations  ‘.

Here’s how:

(1) Product Catalogs:

Allow companies to offer product information or product catalogs on their mini-portals/ pages.

(2) Buy/ Action button:

Having a ‘Buy’ or Action button on their premium account page will enable companies to promote products/ services to interested users and enable their users to complete transactions right away. They can also directly track user response to their messaging.

For example, companies can drive greater engagement in the following sequence:

Promoted Tweets —————> Premium pages,—————-> Product catalogs ————–>Call to Action (Buy Button/ Download coupon).

If a user clicks on “Buy” or performs the action such as say, downloading a coupon from the page, the company can measure the value of the Promoted Tweet and ultimately, the ROI on their spend.

(3) Enhanced User Engagement with Company:

Users can visit the company’s page and ask questions about the product or engage in discussions. For example on a page for Acer’s laptops, users could go and ask the Acer reps questions about the laptop specs, via 140 word tweets, of course. The Acer representatives would address user questions and concerns by tweeting back to users.

Premium accounts would also be a useful vehicle for Monetization for Twitter.


Google+ vs Facebook: Initial Thoughts

July 4, 2011

After taking the tour and going over the demo, here is an initial take on whether Google+ is a threat to Facebook.

Google+ addresses some key gaps in Facebook very elegantly and intuitively.

Circles is an excellent concept and addresses a key issue that people face on Facebook.  My Facebook network is an amalgam of all the other networks in my life – casual friends, close friends, family, cousins, work colleagues and acquaintances. Most people interact differently with the various networks in their lives, but Facebook does not do a very good job of facilitating this online. I have to say that Facebook’s “Friends Lists” is somewhat clunky and not very well implemented.

Google Circles is a very elegant approach to segmenting my friends and interacting differently with them, just like in real life. Its implementation intuitively makes sense.

Hangouts addresses another Facebook gap. Many a time have I felt that I’d like to interact with some of my friends more closely instead of only responding to their status updates or watching their photos. Many of my friends are scattered all over the world and I’d like to have the opportunity to hang out with them again. And Google’s Hangout, with its excellent video service seems like a great way to do this.

But there are switching costs in moving from Facebook to Google+

By itself, it does not seem likely that people will move over to Google+ from Facebook, even though Circles and Hangouts are excellent features. The big factor that will prevent switching is the Network effect. Many people have at least 100 friends on Facebook and it is going to be hard to move with all one’s friends to Google Plus.

Another major switching cost is that people have a lot of photos on Facebook. Of course, if Google were to introduce a photo transfer feature to enable people to port their photos over from Facebook it will make it easier. People also belong to many groups on Facebook but I am not sure that this is a major blocker, because people are usually passive members of groups and tend to forget about their groups soon after joining.

It would also be interesting to see whether Google+ has a feature to let people port over their friends and content such as photos or wall posts. This might reduce some switching costs.

Facebook can (and likely will) replicate Circles and Hangouts:

Even though Circles and Hangouts are intuitive features that address key gaps in Facebook, Facebook ought to be able to replicate these so that people do not have an incentive to switch. I expect that they will come up with a way to let people do what Circles enables them to, which is to segment their friends and present different updates, photos and views of themselves to their different friends’ circles. Similarly, I expect Facebook will provide sophisticated video chat capabilities to match Hangouts.

Fundamentally, Facebook is a great product and more importantly, has a hard-to-replicate ecosystem. It only has to address its gaps and make sure there are not many incentives to switch.

Integration with Google products could be the Game-changer

However, there is one factor that could get people to start using Google+ at scale. How well Google+ is integrated with popular products such as Gmail, Search or Android could be the game changer.

And this is where I’d like to actually get an invite and check out for myself how well Google Plus is integrated with Search, Gmail and Android. I plan to have an updated post after I tinker with Google Plus. Watch this space.


Linkedin Today: Customizability Would be Even Better

May 22, 2011

So Linkedin has provided what I’ve wanted Facebook to do, ie allow me to access News of interest to me in a separate tab. I am a news junkie and I find this feature pretty useful for the following reasons:

  • It helps me be well informed about my areas of interest without having to visit many sources individually. Most of the major tech news portals that I visit are represented in one place.
  • I have discovered interesting news sources that I previously did not access.
  • I can share news articles of interest with contacts and comment on them. This is another opportunity to ‘interact’ with my contacts. I use this feature in tandem with Twitter and it works pretty well.

 

From Linkedin’s perspective, this feature incentivizes users to visit more, spend more time and engage actively. I find that I spend a lot more time now because of Linkedin Today than I did before.

How Linkedin can make this a more useful feature:

  • I would like to see more customizability and be able to choose my own news sources in addition to the ones Linkedin generates for me. There are other new sources and blogs pertaining to my industry that I have bookmarked in my Google Reader and regularly access but these are not available on Linkedin Today. For example, I can access Techcrunch, Gigaom and Venturebeat amongst a host of others via Linkedin Today. But I also regularly view PPC Hero and Search Engine Watch, which do not show up on my Linkedin Today page.

Bottomline: Linkedin Today helps me discover new news sources, but it also should let me add sites of interest to me so that I have a single source for business and industry news.

  • I would also like to distill content shared by specific contacts or groups of contacts. I may weight or respect certain contacts more than others and consider them thought leaders. In such cases, I’d like the news articles they are reading or recommending to be displayed more prominently.
  •  This is totally unrealistic, but I’ll say it anyway. Most people spend at least 30 minutes on their daily morning commute to work. Wouldn’t be awesome to be fully informed of the news in one’s industry on my commute? So if there were a way to transcribe the written content into audio, then a lot of people could connect their cell phones to a car speaker and get their morning news on the way to work and be upto speed on business news. Just sayin’.     

What sort of revenue models would work best for Quora?

March 7, 2011

I’ve been experimenting with Quora, a new Q&A and discussion site. Quora’s big differentiator is that it provides high quality responses often by users who are experts in their fields. So what kind of revenue model would be a good fit for such a service?

1.       Highly targeted advertising: The ads would be almost an extension of the information that the users are seeking. Since users show interest in Topics such as Travel, Parenting and so on, the ads can reflect those interests and also specifically target questions that the users are trying to get answered. For example, for “ What is a good off-season time to travel to Switzerland” with answer “April” the best type of ad would be “Hotel in Zurich, Book now for April Deals”.

 

Additionally, the targeting can be based on a user’s history on Quora, aggregating their interests in different topics. For example, an ad could be targeted to users who are parents with interests in technology and travel.

 

2. Allowing advertisers to sponsor answers: For the question above on travel to Switzerland, you could have a tour operator offer an informed and detailed answer while subtly marketing their product. Even for more esoteric questions such as “Do supermarkets use purchasing data to find correlations between different products where one wouldn’t normally think there is a strong correlation” –  retail or pricing consultants could provide an informative answer while pitching their services. Of course, such a response would be called out and labeled as Sponsored. Done right, Sponsored answers will add value and be useful to users, instead of being just a distraction, which is the case with most forms of advertising.

 


RSS feeds on Facebook

January 5, 2011

Facebook would like users to make it their starting page on the internet. Also they would like users to spend more time on Facebook than elsewhere.

One way to make both things happen would be to let users get RSS feeds on Facebook. There could be a separate tab, next to the Wall, Info and Photos tab for this purpose. Users can subscribe to their favorite blogs, new or sports portals such as CNN or ESPN and even stock info. Users of course, will share their news articles with their friends and trade stock tips.

This way, people will not only start their day on Facebook but also continue to spend time on it.


Extending Mint.com’s Business Model: Coupons

October 9, 2010

Mint.com’s monetization model is based on making recommendations for financial products tailored to the user’s financial situation such as bank savings accounts, credit cards, insurance or brokerage accounts. And it does so in an intelligent manner that is useful to the user. (That is the best kind of selling). For example, I got a recommendation for a savings account that offered much more interest than I was currently earning. Mint also noticed that I hadn’t been saving in my 401K for a few months and so suggested a 401K rollover account. Pretty neat, I thought, even though I did not end up using these recommendations.

Another area for Mint to monetize while providing customers with useful functionality is to incorporate Discount Coupons. Since most Mint users are serious savers focused on reducing their spending, this is a natural fit. So, based on the stores I shop at (Mint already pulls this information from my credit card and bank information to calculate my spending), it can show me coupons from retailers of interest. For example, if I’ve been shopping at Target or See’s Candies, Mint can show me Target coupons and coupons for See’s or Godiva chocolates. This should of course be non-intrusive, and could be an option on the “Ways to Save” tab.


An E-commerce Model for Social Networking

November 20, 2009

Users share birthday information, engagement and wedding announcements and many more such events with their friends on social networking sites. So why not extend this and let people buy their friends gifts for weddings, birthdays, baby showers on the networks itself? Social networking sites such as Facebook could support wedding registries – people planning to get married can sign up for a Facebook wedding registry provided by merchants such as, say, Pottery Barn or Williams – Sonoma. Their friends can then buy them their wedding gifts online. Another concept could be wish-lists – I can maintain a wish list on my profile – and any friend who is so inclined can buy it for me during the holiday season or for my birthday or anniversary.

Users should be allowed to choose whether they want their friends to see their purchases or wish lists, and if so, which friends.  It certainly should be an opt-in model.

This would require that Facebook have its own shopping engine and allow sellers to set up Storefronts. These could range from the really large stores to mom-and-pop stores. A Target storefront is different from a Target ad listing. This is because the storefront will facilitate interactions on the network itself – I can buy things from Target’s FB storefront, get coupons for the next time, share my coupons with friends, apprise them of really great deals and make suggestions (“Hey these shoes will really look good on you”, “I thought you might like this book”) – with their permission – no spam, please!

For the user, the benefit is the combination of ease of purchase and social interaction. For the retailer, the benefit is obviously the sale. Additionally, the viral nature of the site will also give them more customers. They could also derive the benefit of the targeting available on social networking sites. The site itself of course would charge listing or sales fees to the retailer which would be an additional revenue model.

Note: Facebook does have a gift shop but it is pretty basic and not as yet conducive to the wedding registry kind of concept. Also, it’s better to not just have a single gift shop, but let retailers set up storefronts and let users to buy directly from them. There are 3rd party e-commerce applications that some retailers use, but this should become a standard mainstream feature.