On July 16, Techcrunch.com published a small selection of internal Twitter documents that were acquired (or stolen) by someone who got the password to a Twitter worker's gmail account, which then opened access to Google Documents that Twitter kept its meeting minutes and notes on. Whether or not publishing this was the right decision is a topic for another blog post, as this blog post will focus on the business strategy that permeated from the internal thoughts, fears, ambitions, and more.
I first read through these Twitter documents while at the beach on a Social Diva yoga/surf lesson retreat. I couldn't exercise and obviously was without beach read (ok, confession, I wanted to read them the first free moment I could indulge and not skim). At times, I would read a small passage with a sigh of relief. Twitter would ask the same questions that we were, such as how to officially define themselves. The takeaway was: cool...if Twitter is going through this stuff, and we are too, then we are not only 'normal', but these questions are healthy. So, this article is to pull out some of those questions to encourage you to consider them about your business if you haven't already.
This is a commentary on what we can learn from a company that is growing at top speed, while earning no money but gaining millions in investment dollars ($55 million as of this post), which could mean that the Twitter builders can think and develop in relative comfort, as opposed to starving and acting desperately for money. Now, they may act desperately to put out a PR or tech-related fire, but that is another matter.
Takeaway: Be Realistic About Your Competition
This is just a humbling reminder to be realistic about your competition. While you may aspire to beat out Disney at something, keep in mind that there are dozens of smaller companies, blogs, what-have-you that have mastered a corner of the market. Twitter mainly discussed competing or working with Google, Microsoft and Facebook. While that is lofty for the average online company, Twitter has grown so fast and is used in so many ways, that these brands are actual competition for them, not to mention the introduction of acquisitions. Of course we should all dream big, but keep your eye on the ball and what you are developing, and the rest (ie your competition) will follow.
Takeaway: Discuss Your Competition (but don't dwell)
Twitter flat out asked themselves "How could Facebook kill us?". Twitter is building themselves to be more search friendly, based on user demand for their search tool. As they consider possibilities, they say to themselves: "Google would kick our ass at finding the good tweet." So, while not getting hung up on who is better than who, or who is getting there first, do be aware of what your competition is doing so that you can steer your ship accordingly. That may mean tweaking something that you have in development, ditching something that you are developing, or increasing your marketing about something amazing that you have available but have been quiet about.
Takeaway: Create Tools to Help Spread Virally
Your customers, users, and friends are your best evangelists. Create tools for them to make it easy to spread the word about your brand. This would include a Facebook Page, an affiliate program, a Twitter account (that you acutally use...see our Tweetworking class if you need help), YouTube channel, ways to submit reviews about your product or service, the possibilities are up to your imagination.
Takeaway: Fixing What Aint Broke
Twitter mentioned that they want to encourage the growing use of their search box, and therefore, want their landing page to be "better than the landing pages on Google". Twitter also considers Google to be "old news", yet they sure talk about them a lot. The thing about the Google landing page is that...it's copied by everyone - other search engines. It's even copied by Microsoft's newly launched search engine, Bing. A more effective mindset about creating a competing product would be how to do it different to look more like your own brand, yet still remain effective.
Takeaway: Getting the Moola
When you make a product and offer it for free, and when that product happens to take off by thousands of percentage points over a year, it's going to be hard to suddenly start charging for it without a revolt from users/would-be-customers. Etsy.com did a nice job of charging a very small amount for each time a product is posted for sale. Creating an account on Etsy is free, and with that free account comes the ability to heart products and sellers, message other people on Etsy, and more. But the ability to post a new product, which is how the seller would earn money, cost $.10 per post. They raised it to $.20 per post, and still business increased. Not bad. Etsy has been comfortably earning the moola for years now from so many products being posted.
Takeaway: Developing the Money Streams
Twitter conceptualized several ways in which they could start bringing in money from their users. Some were flat out bad, some dangerous, and some great. But they story-boarded them in their notes (and I'm sure in more notes that were not published) to see how different revenue streams might play out. Do this for your business: create a blueprint of several ways to make money. A way that you were not anticipating to succeed may be your best seller. It may come with benefits and drawbacks. You'll want to be prepared with how to deal with both of those as your build your company.
Takeaway: Defining Your Company
This was my favorite. Twitter has essentially created something new. Most of us business owners probably all think we have created something totally new. Twitter actually took existing technology and just spun it into a different use. Therefore, they were trying to define what they were, which proved difficult because they are pieces of a lot of existing buzzwords. We at Tin Shingle started with the idea that we were a member-based marketing platform for women entrepreneurs. Because we were three business owners with existing companies that offered specific and different services, we not only blended our perspectives to offer advice, but we realized that we were recommending each other to each other all of the time, and that it was much more efficient for the client to have all of us on the same page. Hence, we developed Tin Shingle as a member-based agency designed for entrepreneurs. We like knowing who's on first - when a client gets press in Seventeen that our PR department helped them land, the Website and Social Media departments can spring into action to spin that into more. Meanwhile, the Business Strategy department is always overlooking to make sure all bases are loaded. However, we do continue to tweak that single defining phrase that we can spit out to define who we are. An "entrepreneurs agency" is something new. And it's our job to teach about what it is, as well as speak in a language that people understand.
Takeaway: Changing How Your Core Product/Tool Works
In trying to monetize themselves, Twitter was considering how different people use Twitter, which includes people using it to promote brand awareness at the business level. While they weren't totally overhauling their system, some suggestions would make Tweeting as we know it...be different. Facebook did this - fundamentally changed how its users used their accounts, and they changed their Terms of Service. There was great revolt from Facebook users. So much so, that Facebook had to amend its Terms of Service, though it did not amend the redesign it launched, which basically made the Facebook experience to be much more similar to the Twitter experience. Which left several users asking: "Why did Facebook become so much like Twitter? I use Twitter to tweet, I use Facebook to [insert one of several uses of Facebook here]."
Takeaway: It's OK to Not Take That Investor
Twitter had sections devoted to courtships from P. Diddy, Marissa Mayer, and Microsoft. All were labeled as "distractions," but not in an egotistical way. In an honest way. All were identified for what they could give to Twitter, and what would end up limiting Twitter. Twitter considered how their brand would change, how they would be perceived if different ideas or logos were implemented, and more. If money is being thrown at your business, it may not be in your company's best interest to take it. Consider what it would do to your core business and company value system. Twitter made sure that they knew what they wanted, and in their case, it was "...where we stay in charge." Define what is important to you for continuing to grow your company, and then see if that investor or acquisition is a good fit.
Throughout the published documents, Twitter referred to "happiness" as one of its key areas to focus on. Be it their own happiness from developing Twitter, to making sure their employees were happy which would improve idea/programming production, and increase employee retention or recruitment. Our belief system here at Tin Shingle is: do what makes you happy, and the money will follow. Of course you have to be smart and discerning about it, but waking up in the morning and looking forward to the day is key.
That completes our takeaway. Did you read the Twitter documents? Did you have any takeaways you'd like to share?