Got a Flickr Pro account? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Flickr (a Yahoo company) offers people the option of going Pro for $25 a year. For that, you get a little Pro icon beside your name (a nice touch for photographers), and unlimited storage space for your images. Meaning, you can throw PB1000888.jpg and PB100889.jpg on Flickr, find out what they are, and delete them from your computer.
With a social network (and Flickr is a social network), there are three ways to monetize.
1. Show ads. This is a little tricky, but doable. LinkedIn is doing some smart ad deals with Banana Republic, so there’s hope that people will think hard about the ads in social networks. But if it’s just throwing a banner ad in front of someone, then the monetization will be tough. Especially in a place like Twitter where people use all kinds of methods to read their feeds. I use TweedDeck for example. And a quick look on my feeds shows: TwitterBerry, Twirl, Twitterfeed and one ‘via web’.
2. Sell. MySpace sold their community. Flickr even sold their to Yahoo (although one could argue that they sold the technology, as the community was still youngish).
3. Charge. Again, in a marketplace where everything is free, this one didn’t seem like an option. Until one realizes the value in a community — and the time it takes to build one. There’s a value proposition associated with that time. My Twitter account has 250+ followers. There’s value in keeping those people, and not starting again from scratch somewhere else. True, there’s a monetary amount whereby I would walk away from the community, but for the Twitter accounts that we manage at Eric Mower and Associates, we would have to think seriously about the costs.
For instance, thinking about feeds we don’t manage, would Whole Foods pay $5 or $10 per month for their feed? Could they seriously consider going to Plurk (or other communities that will pop up if Twitter starts charging to fill the void) and tell people that they can’t pony up $60-$120 a year? Could any brand consider that?
Like I said, we have some clients on Twitter. They are building some good communities, but they pay us to build them. Would they seriously consider not paying Twitter?
So here’s my prediction: Twitter will start charging in 2009. And people will pay. Some will leave, but the ones with communities in the 100′s would have to consider the time invested to date, and factor that in with the costs moving forward. And for most brands, that will be a simple equation. For Twitter stars, the people in the 10,000 follower range, that will be a simple equation. For the people with 100-500 followers, it will be a little harder.
For Brands, it will be all about showing the value. I’m creating that document right now. We’ll need, I predict.