There have been various discussions in 2008 about what business model Twitter should use to monetize its user base. I’m not aware of any that have considered how the Retweets (user’s re-posts of existing posts of users’ they follow) could be leveraged into a social ad platform.

Retweets are a powerful way for people to broaden the audience of their tweets beyond their immediate followers. Some people spontaneously retweet interesting tweets posted by others, but some users actually request others to retweet their posts. Every minute or so, there are several Twitter users asking their followers to “Please RT” a link they tweetted about, whether it is to promote an event, an widget, some marketing offer, or to find someone. Here are some recent examples:

DuongSheahan: It’s tonight! Christian Women Tweet Up 9pm EST Go here to register: http://bit.ly/N1uv (expand) #cwtu Please RT

RefugeesIntl: RT @deborah909 Please help me spread the word about this new widget for advocacy groups: http://tinyurl.com/9jfm96

micaela6955: Win a $50 Pet GC at http://www.consumerqueen.com/?cat=15 Please RT!

RT @shefinds: We need a NYC intern – please RT to anyone you know http://newyork.craigslist.org/mnh/wri/985342234.html

Currently, when users kindly retweet these posts as requested by their sender, they do not earn anything, soft or hard dollar. A Retweet is essentially a favor you make to someone because you can and you want. This favor might be worth a lot, considering that many Twitter users have 1000s or 10,000s of followers.

One way that Twitter users could earn something would be through a favor  bank, or in this case a Retweet bank or Tweetbank for short. The concept of favor bank is not new (I love this one in particular). Paulo Coehlo even mentioned the concept in his book The Zahir.

Here is how it would work:

  • When you retweet, you are making a favor, and you earn Tweet credits in the amount of the number of followers you have.
  • When you are retweetted, you are using a favor, and you lose Tweet credits as were earned by those retwitting your post.
  • You can’t really go bankrupt here, although you could go deeply negative if you are highly retweetted, which should encourage you to pay back by retweetting others.
  • If you are retweetted a lot, this should prompt others to follow you, which would make your RTs more valuable and make it easier for you to track your “debt”.
  • If you are in debt, and don’t want to be anymore (although it has no real consequences for you), you might be tempted to spam your followers with a lot of RTs. That would be a very bad idea actually, since it would certainly tire your followers who will surely decide to not follow you anymore, making your RTs in turn less valuable and your debt harder to repay.

This would be a nice little game with no real financial consequence for either one. But it could be pushed a step further with some users actually deciding to incentivize RTs with actual U.S. dollars.

When you consider that an ad by The Deck displayed in a Twitterific client costs roughly 5 cents (based on their December 2008 statistics/pricing), some may think they deserve a share of the advertising they provide: after all, they generally retweet if they consider that the tweet is relevant to their audience. With a 5 cent per RT, if you only have 20 followers, your RT is worth $1, $100 for 2,000 followers and $500 for 10,000. Not pocket change for many.

The way it would work is that a user willing to pay for RTs would set a max $ budget for RTs payment. Other users retweetting would earn the same credits as above but redeemed in dollars for the exchange rate of say a few cents, with Twitter taking its share as well.

A really nice plus of this model is that it would allow Twitter to monetize its user activity on any client, whether Web, Desktop, Mobile, SMS, etc.