Twitter Digs for Worms With Earlybird Specials

Microblogging service Twitter has announced its second major attempt to monetize — the @earlybird service.

This will let advertisers pay a fee to promote exclusive events, tout time-sensitive special deals and offer sneak peeks at products to Twitter users.

The service had signed up more than 15,000 followers by press time.

A Rockin’ Robin?

Twitter has launched the @earlybird service to help customers discover the best deals and find and follow accounts that consistently provide exceptional value, the company stated.

Consumers will get the @earlybird tweets only if they follow an account or are retweeted the offers by someone they follow.

The offers will be time-sensitive and sometimes supply-sensitive, Twitter warned. The onus for filling orders, pricing, setting the terms and conditions of offers and ensuring supplies falls on advertisers. This puts Twitter in the role of the messenger and may absolve it from legal liability if problems occur.

Twitter’s apparently seeking advertisers to sign up for the service. Users with suggestions of products or events they want to see featured as early-bird specials can reply directly to @earlybird, Twitter said.

Initially, Twitter is aiming at large international brands and those focused on the U.S. market. It will begin with nationwide offers but will explore location-based deals in the future.

Gotta Make Some Money

The @earlybird service is Twitter’s second notable attempt at monetization thus far. In April, it launched the Promoted Tweets service.

Promoted Tweets are shown to people who conduct a search on Twitter. Advertisers have to pay for this service. Twitter’s initial advertising partners for this service include Best Buy, Red Bull, Sony Pictures and Starbucks.

Twitter has been under pressure by investors to monetize its service.

“It’s clear that Twitter needs to demonstrate some appreciable commercial value pretty soon,” Andrew Frank, lead analyst for online advertising at Gartner, told the E-Commerce Times.

Pecking Away at Twitter’s Liabilities

Whether or not the @earlybird service will help Twitter monetize is not yet clear. Can anything be gleaned from Twitter’s earlier venture, Promoted Tweets?

“Promoted Tweets only launched in April, so it may be premature to cast judgment on its actual success, but it doesn’t appear to have generated much buzz in advertising circles,” Gartner’s Frank pointed out.

“The @earlybird project has a more compelling story, but must still be viewed as highly experimental,” Frank said. The concept of embedding offers in the tweet stream has not been well-tested, although some online retailers such as Woot, which was purchased by Amazon recently, appear to have had some success with it, Frank explained.

Several technical issues still need to be resolved before we’ll know whether or not @earlybird will fly.

“The questions of user uptake, merchant reach and value, and a range of technical details will need to be resolved before we can reasonably assess @earlybird’s viability and scalability,” Gartner’s Frank warned.

Money for Nothing and Your Tweets for Free

Many businesses have done very well promoting themselves on Twitter so far. For example, Dell reportedly made US$6.5 million in sales using Twitter last year.

Other major corporations with a presence on Twitter include Wal-Mart, Bank of America and Hewlett-Packard. These and many other megacorporations have active Twitter pages with more than 1,000 followers, strong customer service points of contact on their Twitter pages and active links from their corporate websites or blogs to their Twitter pages, according to the blog Twarketing.

That being the case, why would these companies want to pay for the @earlybird service? Dell, for example, already offers exclusive discounts and deal alerts to followers of its Twitter page based on their locations and interests.

“If you already have a channel on Twitter and it’s successful, why would you need to sign up for @earlybird?” Greg Sterling, founding principal at Sterling Market Intelligence, asked.

“On the other hand, Twitter has massive reach and visibility, and @earlybird could be a very quick way to unload merchandise or build awareness,” Sterling told the E-Commerce Times.

Twitter will most likely continue its efforts to monetize, Gartner’s Frank said. “I don’t think @earlybird is likely to be the last thing Twitter tries, or its sole source of ultimate value.”

Twitter did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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