Can Twitter Pay the Bills? Probably Not

John Mayer said Twitter killed his ability to write songs before quitting the platform entirely.

Others can’t walk away: Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj ultimately came running back to their abusive Twitter #boyfriends, and even the most successful Twitter artists are swimming amongst imposters.   A recent study found that 73 percent of Lady Gaga’s Twitter followers are fake or inactive, more a problem with Twitter itself than Gaga.

So what about your complicated relationship with Twitter?  The answer is probably this: for a platform with so much baggage, Twitter is probably still helping you as an artist or label on some level.   But it’s time-consuming, and it’s not paying the bills: tweet about some new developments, releases, and personal gripes, and you may get a rousing response and all sorts of fan engagement.  Tweet about a show, and more people might show up.  Blast a tweet about a new iTunes single, and you’ll rally a few paying fans.  But most of the time, they won’t be pulling out their credit cards.

The early data suggests that in-stream commercing on Twitter is going to be tough, and this is a platform with mostly ‘soft dollar,’ promotional benefits and lots of time demands.  Just last week, Green Day tested the waters with a post-VMAs, Twitter-based sales of an upcoming track.  Chirpify, a startup focused on twit-commerce, facilitated the direct campaign and rustled about 250 sales in the first few hours.  That’s out of a total Twitter following of more than two million.

The results on Green Day are still materializing, though another early-mover in this area is Amanda Palmer.  In a hastily-created affair, Palmer recently whipped up a t-shirt and started hawking it to her fanbase of about 634,000.  Ultimately, she sold about 320 shirts in a few hours, according to Chirpify (which also powered the sale).

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July, 2011: “If Only Twitter Could Sell Albums…

Is that good?  Unfortunately, Palmer is probably an extreme outlier of success here, and also a case study in a difficult numbers game that involves non-stop tweeting.  Palmer was Twitter-blasting towards a record-setting Kickstarter campaign, and as skilled as anyone at creating 140-character engagement.  But she’s also a constant and furious Twittering machine, which means that payoffs require immense time commitments – and distractions away from songwriting, touring, and more lucrative deals.

The question is whether that time commitment and payoff makes sense for other artists.  I’d say the decision about when to tweet, how much to tweet, or whether to tweet at all is a case-by-case decision for everyone involved.  And in many cases, it doesn’t make any sense at all.

5 Responses

  1. Schwartz

    Stop calling Amanda Palmer a genius — she’s is a great businesswoman and self-promoter. But an average talent musically unfortunately which I think answers your question, Paul. Spend all day on Twitter and it’s not time practicing or breaking any creative ground on the music side.

    • Visitor

      I missed the part where Paul called her a genius.

      He called her an “extreme outlier” and “skilled.”

      If you don’t like Amanda Palmer fine, but you might want to dial back the projections.

  2. Social Commerce

    Isn’t the 250 sales just in the first 4 hours? More than one sale every minute seems pretty good to me.

  3. Chad

    250 sales in 4 hours at $29.99 per sale all from 1 Tweet that took 30 seconds to write. What is not good about that?

    • paul

      Let’s see what the final numbers are. I’m guessing there was a huge, post-VMAs burst, followed by a sharp drop-off. Also, unclear how many reply ‘buys’ resulted in actual purchases, we’ll have to see.