Twitter's 'Buy' Button Is Commercializing Conversation
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Twitter's 'Buy' Button Is Commercializing Conversation

Shopping and user-generated discourse will now exist side-by-side on the social media platform.
September 8, 2014, 4:55pm

In a bid to build revenue, Twitter has dabbled in the world of online commerce for some time, with sponsored ads and experiments with in-tweet shopping like #AmazonCart. Now, Twitter is aiming to solidify its place in the online shopping ecosystem with a "Buy Now" button that lets you purchase products directly from a tweet.

According to an announcement on Twitter's blog this morning, the button will appear in tweets from selected partners to "a small percentage" of US-based users on the Twitter app for iPhone and Android, although company reps told Motherboard that they plan to expand the service across national markets and platforms soon. As part of its new service, Twitter plans to offer the ability to store users' credit card and shipping information, making every purchase after the first quick and seamless.

With the option to buy things, blessed things, without leaving its app, Twitter is closing the gap that has always existed between the kinds of promotional discourse that proliferate on the platform and the final act of buying.

Even with #AmazonCart, which allowed people to add items to their carts with a tweet, Twitter was just the middleman in the consumption circuit, directing users to other platforms geared towards purchasing. Now, conversing and consuming have been totally integrated on the site, or at least for some. It's an important path to revenue generation for the company, and Wall Street is happy: At the time of writing, Twitter's stock was up more than 3 percent on the day.

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Twitter, like millennial favourite Tumblr, is a conversation-oriented platform struggling to find a profitable place for itself in commerce, besides being an indicator of taste and public opinion, which Twitter certainly is.

In 2012, the site made 47.5 million dollars licensing data to a slew of marketing and forecasting agencies. Twitter is taking this commercial logic one step further by making shopping a part of the Twitter experience, instead of just talking about it.

The button's introduction could also be seen as riding the coat tails of the big kid on the block when it comes to monetizing user interactions, Facebook, which just stamped a big 'ole RIP on its Gifts service in favour of integrating its own "Buy" feature.

Twitter's initial partners for the new feature include a smattering of businesses and organizations that range from the predictable (RED and Home Depot) to the less obvious, like GLAAD, the media monitoring organization formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Twitter is also tapping into that sweet 'n juicy millennial market with indie-mainstream crossover b(r)ands The New Pornographers and Death From Above 1979, which both have new albums to promote.

Although an ad is usually easy enough to distinguish from a regular tweet on the site, it's not yet clear just how Twitter will go about combining a mish-mash of ads, music, celebrities, and shopping, all of which power the site. In any case, Twitter looking to boost revenue through an affiliate model with top personalities and brands may end up being more palatable than filling users' feeds with more and more sponsored tweets—unless, of course, the two go hand-in-hand in the future.

It's not clear at the moment whether Twitter will directly benefit, financially speaking, from the "Buy Now" button or any of its associated partnerships, and the company refused to disclose information on anything related to revenue to Motherboard. At the very least, the new service will provide ample leverage for Twitter to position itself as an indispensable tool for companies to drive sales amid the sea of user-driven conversation online.