In a move that appears to signal an attempt by Twitter to finally monetize its user base, the company will start selling corporate accounts to brands by the end 2009.
Though Twitter co-founder Biz Stone had hinted at such an initiative earlier this year, he fleshed out the concept this week at an industry event in London, where he said a pay-for package will offer verified streams and analytics.
"This takes advantage of some of the commercial use of Twitter we've seen from businesses like airlines and big box stores," Stone said (via the Guardian). "We want to present to them a layer of features that allows them to become better at Twitter, show them some of the analytics."
Twitter is also looking to add the ability to geo-tag individual tweets and is developing tools to recognize which users have higher reputations than others, Stone added. The company also wants to make a bigger push onto the mobile platform.
There already are a number of offerings - some free, some commercial - that quantify the impact of a user's reputation already. Most recently PR-firm Edelman announced a new tool that measures an individual's importance on Twitter using metrics that go beyond just a tally of followers.
Ironically enough, Twitter is getting set to go to market just as research firms detect a worrisome decline in its user base. According to data provided to eMarketer by Nielsen, traffic to Twitter.com was down a dramatic 27.8% between September and October 2009, falling to 18.9 million unique visitors. comScore data showed unique visitors down 8.1% in October, while Compete reported a 2.1% decline.
The decrease in visitors could mean either falling interest in Twitter or simply migration to other platforms, such as third-party applications and mobile access, eMarketer concluded.
That said, it is doubtful that brands will suddenly lose interest in leveraging the microblogging platform. One of Twitter's greatest strengths is its role as a news broadcast platform - not necessarily a "sharing" platform, according to a recent study by Social Twist. For sharing, Twitter enjoys only 5% of "shared information" traffic among popular social platforms.
In a move that appears to confirm Twitter's acknowledgement that it is indeed a de-facto broadcasting tool, Stone also announced yesterday that the site had changed its fundamental question from "What are you doing?" to "What's happening?"
ITA Software, a provider of software applications for the travel industry, and FareCompare.com, an independent airfare comparison shopping site, already are using Twitter in such a news broadcast manner. The duo just announced that they have signed on 15,000 Tweeters to follow FareCompare's When-to-Fly Real-Time Airfare Alerts since it launched in July. Consumers track the fares by the Twitter handle of their preferred airport, such as @flyfromATL and @flyfromDFW.
FareCompare tweets more than 2,500 price-drop messages each day across its 170 Twitter departure-city accounts.