How a $99 ‘subscription’ will destroy Twitter as we know it

Image: Bloomberg via Getty Images

You know that guy on Twitter. He (or she) is always firing off what they’re up to (no matter how mundane), commenting on every trending hashtag, and often tossing out flashes of #dailyinsight.

This is the Twitter Influencer, and it’s a species as old as Twitter itself. Even if you don’t value what this kind of person has to say, chances are you follow a couple of themmaybe because you once met them in real life and thought they seemed okay, or you clicked on a few of them when you were new to Twitter. Or maybe you were simply curious what the hell a professional influencer does all day.

Now imagine if the top of your feed was mostly tweets from so-called influencers, with a bunch of tweets from brands thrown in for good measure.

It’s hard to imagine a change to Twitter better designed to make me leave the service for good. But that appears to be where the service is heading with today’s news that Twitter is testing a monthly $99 subscription. The idea is you pay roughly a hundred bucks a month and Twitter will boost your overall presence on the site, ensuring your tweets appear in your followers’ feeds more often, and your profile surfaces more often in searches.

This is a fundamentally different tool than Twitter’s Promoted Tweets, which are specific and generally about a single idea or product. Businesses use those in pretty straightforward ways, but the new tool appears to be the lazy man’s version of thatwhen a user doesn’t have any kind of specific campaign or product to plug, but just wants an overall bump.

The tool is clearly not for celebrities; they already have massive followings and simply don’t need it. While Twitter says the new subscription is meant for small- and medium-size businesses, it would clearly be invaluable to those who stake their careers and reputations on their ability to reach people through the service, or for those who wish to. The price is low enough for even sole proprietorships to take advantage, and I’m sure every “social media guru” is considering it.

That’s why this change, more than any other in recent months, has the potential to finally push Twitter into a death spiral. If they make this change, and all those influencers start to pepper users’ feeds, those users will start to tune outfirst out of the feed and then out of the app itself. Eventually it’ll be nothing but influencers talking over other influencers, perhaps instigating some kind of catastrophic social-media singularity where online conversation folds in on itself.

Certainly, Twitter will tightly manage the product so you won’t be overloaded with these tweets. But it’s a pointless change if it doesn’t drive engagement, and I can’t think of a type of Twitter user I’d want to engage with less.

I get the need for revenue, but I don’t know if Twitter has considered how destructive this subset of its users might be to the face of the brand. Earlier this year Twitter CTO Anthony Noto dismissed the idea that it would charge monthly fees for basic access, but honestly I’d sooner pay $5 a year for using Twitter than see my feed get flooded with tons of #motivation.

So step back from the cliff, Twitter. You win. You don’t have to destroy yourself to make things work financially, but you may need to start seriously asking your broader user base: What’s it worth to you?

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