Twitter’s untapped commodity

I can’t recall a time when any company has received this much unsolicited advice. Twitter is in an interesting period of their life — their daily active user count is relatively stagnant, yet changes to encourage new user growth is often faced with criticism by their most active users. Sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. As a result, their stock has slid substantially over the last year.

Several people have suggested that Twitter should move to a paid subscription business model in an effort to increase revenue. Even unpopular “sports and business reporter” Darren Rovell penned a Medium post smugly titled, My $4.5 Billion Gift to Twitter. In his post, he again suggests a paid subscription model, messaged in a way as if he were the first to recommend the idea. Thanks Rovell.

But, why pay? If Twitter suddenly adopted a pay model their daily active users would drop significantly, you’d introduce an additional hurdle to onboarding new users (stifling growth), and likely people would take their social interactions to the bevy of free options out there. Maybe even startups Ello or Peach would stand a chance.

Realizing a Twitter commodity

Active Twitter users will tell you, and likely new users will voice their frustrations, a lot goes into choosing and claiming a Twitter handle. Gone are the days of single-, double-, triple-, quadruple-, quintuple-, and probably sextuple-character handles. If you do get your handle to the lowest possible character number, it’s likely a random string of letters, numbers, and allowed characters. Good luck to new users named Mike Smith, Lauren Johnson, or any slew of popular names. You’re not going to get your first name, your initials, your first and last name, or probably any mix without a number stream included — hello @394MikeSmith_1947 (good news: it’s available for now).

Sure it may be an ego thing, however, people are willing to pay. So how does Twitter monetize this? Easy, create an approved Twitter handle marketplace where they facilitate the transaction of desired handles and then charge a fee.

However, in Twitter’s official Terms and Conditions, they strictly prohibit this very action.

But, and there’s always a but, here are two very easy and obvious reasons to change this policy:

  1. People already do it anyways
  2. Twitter themselves (very likely) do this behind close doors

People already do it

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but if you’re still in doubt do a quick Twitter search for “buy+twitter+handle” and you’ll see both offers on the buy and sell sides. Another glaring example is from the newly-formed sports and news publication from Bill Simmons, The Ringer. Soft-launching this past February, they somehow landed @Ringer on Twitter. So unless Simmons was prescient enough to predict his end at ESPN and mentally create The Ringer years ago, there was some sort of transaction between the previous handle owner and the new.

Twitter might claim the previous owner was squatting or there was a trademark infringement (unlikely since @TheRinger is still owned by an individual) to turn a blind eye to the purchase. Maybe Twitter didn’t even know the transaction took place, which is both extremely likely and sad. Whether the deal happened for $1 or $100,000, that’s missed revenue Twitter could have capitalized on if only they had a dedicated marketplace.

Furthermore, according the New York Post, JPMorgan Chase bought the @Chase handle for $20,000.

I have friends who own vanity handles and have been offered good sums of money to transfer their owner rights. Some people might not even realize the value their handle has, but with a marketplace might be more likely to deal after seeing a dollar amount.

Twitter already does it

Wait, Twitter breaks their own TOCs? Probably, yeah.

According to Buzzfeed, here’s a list of celebrities who joined Twitter in 2015. What’s important to note is the handles these celebs claimed, most of them are ideal handles. The one glaring exception is James Blake (tennis player) who now owns @JRBlake, @JamesBlake is owned by the singer. Also, @JBlake joined way back in 2007 to claim his vanity handle. Cher was able to get the most minimalist of usernames, @cher.

Sure, there’s a possibility that someone in their representation group owned the handle waiting for this day, or maybe someone owned that handle as a parody account. Both are plausible reasons as to why a celebrity was able to get their perfect @first name, last name. Or, more likely, Twitter helped facilitate a behind-closed-doors transaction with the previous owner. If so, why wasn’t the same opportunity afforded the lesser famous?

Remember the New York Post article I mentioned earlier? Well, the previous owner of @Chase, Chase Giunta, turned down the offer because he didn’t want to violate Twitter’s rules. However, Twitter then determined it was a copyright violation and awarded the handle to the bank anyways — seemingly with nothing going to Giunta.

Conclusion

Popular online domain marketplace, GoDaddy, currently has a market cap of $4.83 billion. Twitter’s market cap is $12.13 billion.

Are Twitter handles as valuable as URL domains? No. However, there is potential for an untapped additional revenue stream. A revenue stream that somehow won’t anger existing powers users, will make it easier for new users to join, and won’t ‘ruin’ the product.

Dear Jack and team, #RIPTwitter hurt. We don’t want to pay a monthly or yearly fee, we’re reluctant on additional ads and promotions, and we definitely don’t want our data to be sold to the highest bidder. Isn’t it time to change a line in your TOCs and open a handle marketplace?

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