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Biz Stone: Twitter to Charge Brands for Use

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has confirmed the microblogging network will begin charging companies for certain components of its service.

Rumors that Twitter may start charging for use began taking concrete form in November.

"We are noticing more companies using Twitter and individuals following them. We can identify ways to make this experience even more valuable and charge for commercial accounts," Stone said.

The type of services for which companies would be charged, whether the charges would apply to existing Twitter use or to add-on offerings, and potential fee rates were not revealed. Similar sites, such as intra-office microblogging site Yammer, charge enterprises a subscription fee, but implementing such a model now would likely only alienate longtime Twitter users accustomed to using the site for free.

A number of companies use Twitter for customer support and general engagement purposes, including Comcast, Starbucks, Amazon and Agent Provocateur. Some firms, like Zappos and GoDaddy, have more than one employee frequenting the site to improve their brand personas.

And while few complain about the quality of their Twitter experience, companies appear unreceptive to the prospect of paying to tweet.

VP Bob Pearson of communities and conversations at Dell stated, "If it becomes complicated and costly, our instinct would be to move elsewhere."

Asked whether it would continue using the service if charged, DVD/game rental firm LoveFilm said, "It depends - on price, demand and what else is around."

Managing Director Robin Grant of social media firm We Are Social suggested it may behoove Twitter to charge for display ads, or to access certain aspects of customer data for marketing purposes.

Stone stated Twitter would not charge individual users — but skeptics aren't convinced it will be so easy to separate "individuals" from "companies." On Brand Republic commenter Nathan Williams quipped, "Will they class 'celebrities' as businesses too? I think they should."

In terms of traffic, Twitter now is now ranked as the third-largest social network by Compete. But a December survey from HubSpot revealed the vast majority of users discovered Twitter in 2008, suggesting it is still in an early growth stage.

A number of competitive services, like Plurk and FriendFeed, will be quick to poach fickle users if a future Twitter business model either forces them to fork cash over, or imposes an intolerable number of marketing messages upon them.

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