Twitter launches buy button to get into commerce

Steven Loeb · September 8, 2014 · Short URL:

The button is currently being tested on mobile, allows users to buy goods without leaving the Tweet

For a long time, Twitter's revenue stream has been made up almost entirely of advertising dollars, a model that, frankly, might now be sustainable for the long haul, especially if user numbers continue to slow as they have been recently. But now the company is finally going to start diversifying by entering a new space: commerce. 

The social network is now testing out a buy button, it was revealed in a blog post on Monday, which will allow users to buy goods directly from inside a Tweet. 

Here's how it works: once the button is tapped, the user will get more product details, and will be able to enter both their shipping information and their payment information. The information is then sent directly to the merchant. The user literally never has to leave the Tweet. The test is being conducted exclusively on mobile for the time being.

And for those who are worried about the potential risks of entering their credit card information to Twitter on their mobile device, the company says that all payment and shipping information is both encrypted and " safely stored after your first transaction, so you can easily buy on Twitter in the future without having to re-enter all of your information," though users will have the ability to remove this information if they chose to.

The way Twitter sees it, adding commerce to Tweets would not only be a boon for the user, but for the merchandiser as well.

"This is an early step in our building functionality into Twitter to make shopping from mobile devices convenient and easy, hopefully even fun," Tarun Jain, Group Product Manager at Twitter, wrote. "Users will get access to offers and merchandise they can’t get anywhere else and can act on them right in the Twitter apps for Android and iOS; sellers will gain a new way to turn the direct relationship they build with their followers into sales."

Twitter also announced some of its initial partners, including Fancy, Gumroad, Musictoday and Stripe, who will be platforms for this initial test. It is also testing out the feature with a slew of artists, brands, and nonprofit organizations, including Brad Paisley. Eminem, GLAAD, Keith Urban, Panic! At The Disco, Pharrell, and The Home Depot.

As I said earlier, commerce is a good opportunity for Twitter to branch out beyond advertising as a revenue stream. In its most recently released earnings report, the company posted quarterly revenue of $312 million. Of that, $277 million came from advertising. The other $35 million came from data licensing.

Twitter has recently been having some major issues with user growth, however, which could potentially put its advertising revenue in jeopardy. Brands need to make it worth their while to spend money putting their product in front of as many eyeballs as possible; if they begin to sense that the Twitter audience has become stagnant, or if the service has become passé, they may simply move on.

Commerce is becoming a hot sector in the social media world in recent months, as Facebook launched its own buy button back in July, an indication that the company does see payments as a potentially bigger revenue stream going forward as well.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.

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