Memo to Twitter: If you're really going to be making money with sponsored direct messages, as a New York Times article hints, please make sure it doesn't get annoying.
Twitter investor Todd Chaffee of Institutional Venture Partners told the Times that "e-commerce, including links to products and turnkey payment mechanisms, is a likely revenue stream for Twitter." That's not too surprising. Some companies have touted real success with Twitter-only deals: electronics manufacturer Dell, for example, says it's racked up a few million in sales. Airlines JetBlue and Southwest sometimes advertise special fares on Twitter. It's pretty logical that Twitter would want a slice of this; the catch for the company's team would be how to charge for this sort of thing without taking away features that are already offered for free.
The bigger challenge, however, is not making it annoying. The other day I posted to Twitter about difficulties with my iPhone. I appreciated getting responses from people who were able to inform me that all I had to do to keep my iPhone from skipping songs was to turn off the "shake to shuffle" feature that's new in the iPhone 3.0 software, but I'm not sure if I would want quasi-unsolicited offers from tech support outlets or the like popping up as direct messages in my Twitter feed. Twitter would have to tread very carefully if it plans to be this intrusive--many people receive direct messages as SMS, for example.
Now, there's reason to take the whole thing with a grain of salt, because "sponsored messages" are just the latest potential Twitter business model we've heard about from people affiliated with the service. Last we heard, Twitter was going to be offering some kind of analytics or customer relations management suite for businesses that want to use it more effectively. There have been whispers about search ads, too.
So maybe, when it comes to business plans, Twitter is pretty much throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. Especially since Twitter co-founder and CEO Evan Williams left a comment on a Business Insider post about Chaffee's remarks that make the whole thing seem much less likely.
"To be clear: Todd is a Twitter investor and a very smart and helpful guy," Williams wrote. "However, he is not actually on Twitter's board and, in this article, he's brainstorming on his own. These are not in the least bit concrete plans of the company."
But if we want to turn to the "juicy gossip" side of things, consider this: Twitter's executives have been very laissez-faire about allowing the users to shape the service before determining the best way to make money off it. Seems like its investors might not be in the same camp.