The secrets of Twitter’s success

By Brian Morrissey

For a company that's just two years old, Twitter has come a long way. It has an estimated 18 million users and is already playing a role on the world stage, most recently as an organizing and reporting tool in Iran. The company's co-founder, Biz Stone, came to Cannes to impart some lessons on Twitter's phenomenal growth in what was billed as the first Cannes Tweetup by seminar presenter Hill & Knowlton. Going over the development of Twitter and taking questions posted to the service, Stone hit on some useful themes for marketers. Some highlights:
  Act Fast: Twitter came about as an idea from another co-founder, Jack Dorsey, who saw the status updates people leave on instant-messaging services as potentially interesting. Working with Evan Williams and Stone, they came up with the original application in just two weeks. Stone called it a "little experiment that opened our eyes and blew our minds."
  Simplicity Wins: Stone attributed much of Twitter's success to its simplicity. The company plans to keep its focus on the creation and sharing of messages, he said, noting it has no desire to begin hosting photos. With more than 4 billion mobile phones in the world, Twitter has an opportunity to get massive worldwide adoption since its functionality is very basic, Stone said. Its success is less about a technological breakthrough than understanding human motivation to share and connect, calling it a "triumph of humanity, not the triumph of technology."

  Open Up: Twitter gets three times as much use from third-party applications as it does from its Web site, thanks to its decision to open its API to any developer. That's resulted in 11,000 Twitter applications, Stone said.
  What's next for Twitter? Making money, for one. Stone said Twitter would soon start to offer added services to corporations that are already deriving value from Twitter as a marketing tool or customer-service channel. Dell, for instance, recently said it has sold more than $3 million worth of products through one of its Twitter accounts. Twitter, now at 50 employees, is also focused on improving shorctomings in its service that can drive many users away. Stone acknowledged Twitter has until recently been squarely focused on keeping the service running after a series of outages. "There's a lot we can do to create a more engaging product," he said. "We spent most of 2008 putting out fires." As for the acquisition talks, Stone repeated his usual formulation that Twitter is focused on "building a company of enduring value."

Photo by MSAdvertising on Flickr.

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