Twitter: Paid for premium service won't cure what ails the business

James Moore
Donald Trump's Tweets - part of Twitter's allure but also its problem: C-Span2

Twitter has a big problem. Its revenue generation doesn’t come close to matching its influence and reach.

Despite the enormous cultural impact it has had – it is now arguably the most important medium for breaking news for starters – it is still failing to make enough money from ads to turn a profit.

More than $2bn (£1.6bn) has been lost in just over a decade, in stark contrast to Facebook and its growing stable of profitable companies.

As part of its attempt to fix that, it has emerged that Twitter has been testing a value added premium service that “professional” users would pay for.

An upgraded version of its dashboard TweetDeck app could give marketeers, journalists, and other major users access to a range of analytics, multiple feeds, and other useful information ad free.

There are already people who supply analytics, but you would think the home team might be able to lever an advantage and the $20 (£16) a month mooted fee is pitched at a realistic level.

Attempts by social media companies to charge users have met with decidedly mixed results. LinkedIn has tiered memberships, with higher levels offering more data and greater access. But remember Friends Reunited? Few do. Its move to a subscription model was a #bigmistake.

Twitter’s premium offer would represent more of a strategic tweak than a shift if it gets that far. It’s bells and whistles along the lines of the LinkedIn model.

As long as the company ensures the basic service is still attractive to users then you can take it or leave it, and some might take it. Any additional revenues would come in very handy given Twitter’s losses.

However the core problem lies with every day users. A paid for premium service would address a symptom, not the cause of the business’s ills. And while it could work, Twitter cannot afford to take its eye off the ball when it comes to addressing the issues of attracting new users and the competitive threat posed by rivals.

Analytics and multiple feeds are all very well, but if Twitter continues to lose ground to newcomers, if its user base starts to decline, then no one will be interested in paying for them.

The Twitterscape can be hostile and dangerous and that puts people off. Efforts are being made to address that. A safe search function is on the way. It’s easier to mute anonymous users. Those linked to extremism have been suspended. But there’s a debate to be had about how far Twitter can go to attack the trolls and how far it should go. It’s particularly pertinent given that the world’s biggest troll is in the White House.

Donald Trump’s early morning attacks by tweet are part of Twitter’s allure and part of its problem all rolled into one. How do you deal with them? It’s an almost impossible dilemma. Mr Trump tweets have at times veered into the realm of hate speech. But banning the President? Just imagine the reaction if Twitter did that.

CEO Jack Dorsey says that the company’s journey has been hard. He has warned that it will continue to be hard. #truedat