Twitter has helped Dell sell its products, suggesting a model by which the popular social networking site could assist other companies in generating revenue. Although it has avoided posting aggressive advertising on its site, Twitter has been seeking to monetize itself via a number of channels, including site sponsorship and integration into enterprise applications such as Salesforce.com's Service Cloud.
Twitter has become a revenue generator for Dell, according to the computer maker, representing a new avenue by which both manufacturers and the popular social networking site can potentially generate revenue in the midst of a brutal economic recession.
According to Dell, the company has earned roughly $3 million from its followers on Twitter, who have clicked from posts on the site to Dell's own sites to purchase goods. Although that amount of money is miniscule compared with Dell's overall $12.3 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2009, the model is one with high potential for growth.
"We're seeing people come from @DellOutlet on Twitter into the Dell.com/outlet site, and then ultimately decide to purchase a new system from elsewhere on Dell.com," Stefanie Nelson, a spokesperson for Dell, wrote in a June 11 corporate blog posting. "If we factor in these new system purchases that come from @DellOutlet, [we've] actually eclipsed $3 million in overall sales."
Over the past three months, according to Nelson, the number of Dell followers on Twitter has grown from 11,000 to more than 600,000, a phenomenon she attributes directly to the creation of a Twitter-exclusive deals-and-sales channel. The number of posts to @DellOutlet has recently varied between one and three to four.
Twitter itself seemed more ambivalent, particularly with regard to how such a sales channel might affect its own finances.
"For now, monetization of this type of activity remains unknown," Jenna Sampson, a spokesperson for Twitter, said in a statement.
Twitter has experienced explosive growth since its founding in 2006, with some 9.3 million users in March 2009. That number represented a 131 percent increase over February 2009, when the service had 4.3 million users.
Despite the massive growth, and accompanying rumors that Google or another company would swoop in to purchase the site, Twitter remains advertising-shy.
"There are no people at Twitter who know anything about advertising or work in advertising," Biz Stone, company co-founder, told the Reuters Global Technology Summit in New York in May 2009. "[Advertising is] just not quite as interesting to us."
Instead, Twitter will rely on tools and business services to generate revenue. The Microsoft-sponsored site ExecTweets collects "tweets" from prominent executives and pushes them onto the general ecosystem of Twitter users.
Such site sponsorship could represent a viable revenue generator for Twitter, along with deeper integration into enterprise life. On March 23, Salesforce.com announced that Twitter will become a component of its Service Cloud, alongside Google search, Facebook connections and online communities. Twitter will allow Salesforce.com clients to conduct real-time searches concerning the adoption and discussion of products and services.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.