Why Twitter's 'Suggested Users' is the Next Superbowl Ad (or "Calacanis offers $500k for three years")

Title: Why Twitter’s ‘Suggested Users’ is the Next Superbowl Ad (or
“Calacanis offers $500k for three years”)
Location: Mahalo HQ, Santa Monica
Date/Time: March, 19th 2009 2:14pm
Subscribers: Does it really matter? It’s just a number (13,159)
How to sign up for Jason’s List: http://www.tinyurl.com/jasonslist
How to follow jason on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jasoncalacanis
Republishing: Do not republish on the web, feel free to forward to a friend

Last week, some of you may have read a headline that said I offered
Twitter $250,000 to make me one of the default users in their system.
The headline is almost accurate. I did offer them $250,000, but it was
for two years as a *suggested* user, not a default user. There are no
“default” users on Twitter. There is simply a suggested users page
when you sign up. Being on this page results in 5-10k people following
you per day.

Also, I wasn’t thinking of using the suggested user slot for
http://www.twitter.com/jasoncalacanis, but rather
http://www.twitter.com/questions. There is a big difference: one is my
personal account and the other one is for Mahalo’s Answers product,
which is booming. (40-60k folks are using it daily after 90 days in
the market). With over 60,000 followers, my personal account is,
frankly, probably bigger than it should be. 🙂

Splashing the Pot
A quarter of a million dollars is attention-grabbing and that’s
exactly why I offered it: I wanted to splash the pot. I wanted to get
the attention of Twitter CEO Evan Williams, founder Jack Dorsey and
most of all investors Fred Wilson and Bijan Sabet. It worked well, and
I’ve been in brief, but not substantive, discussions with each of them
about marketing the Mahalo Answers product on Twitter.

In the process of making this offer, we received a ton of press and
started a massive discussion about the monetization of Twitter. I’ve
been told that, at conferences all over the place, people have been
discussing “Calacanis of Mahalo’s proposal to buy Twitter users.”

Excellent. Two of the three nouns in that sentence belong to me. 🙂

Of course, I was only half-bluffing with this move. I was 90% sure
Twitter wouldn’t take the money and I wouldn’t have to pony up a
$250,000 check. However, if they did call my bluff and cashed in the
$250k, I actually would have gotten what I wanted: two to ten million
Twitter followers and the ability to drive one to two million visits
to Mahalo a month from Twitter.

My plan was to post the Top Five most absolutely fascinating questions
from Mahalo Answers to our @questions account every day.

Everyone loves a timely or fascinating question and, in my estimation,
I would get a one percent clickthrough rate on each question. If I was
able to reach three million followers, and kept half of them (1.5m),
that means every tweet would get 15,000 visits. Five a day means
75,000 daily visits, and over two million visits a month–or close to
50m visits of two or three years. Some percentage of those two million
would participate in Mahalo by asking or answering questions, and if
that number is also .5 to 1%, that means I would get about 250,000 new
members for my service.

Each of those 250,000 new members would cost me one dollar, and I’m
certain over their lives we would monetize them for much more than

In other words, I was absolutely certain that the $250,000 bet would
pay off. Either I would just get the press for making it or I would
get the press for making it AND get the deal of a lifetime.

What’s a top slot actually worth?
The top 20 slots on Twitter are actually worth–to some people–2-10x
what I offered. If Southwest, Amazon, eBay or Zappos were to get their
hands on one of these accounts, they could easily make one
uber-compelling tweet a week. 50 tweets from Amazon with things like
“Top 100 Science Fiction Movies of All Time–as rated by George Lucas”
would garner a two to 10% CTR. A Zappos tweet with “Back to school:
Buy two pairs of shoes get one free” would get a huge response on
August 20th.

A JetBlue daily notice saying “The first 1,000 folks to respond to
this alert get $25 off their next flight” would mean never having
another empty seat.

The point is that Twitter has the ability to unleash a direct
marketing business the likes of which the world has NEVER seen. I
predict they will, and when they do, they will make the Twitter
nay-sayers look like the donkeys they really are. (Note: you ever
notice the folks who have the most to say about making money are the
ones who’ve never made any? Exactly.)

Direct marketing by mail changed retail forever, as did the Web and email.

Twitter will take that to an entirely new level. Why? Because people
*live* inside of Twitter like they have never lived inside of a
product before. We have NBA stars twittering about their performance
at half-time and a president who leveraged the service to get elected.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that there is something
disruptive going on here.

Compared to the Superbowl
A Superbowl commercial costs $2.5-$3m for 30 seconds and is viewed by
some percentage of the 100m folks who tune in (i.e. those that aren’t
drunk and/or making out in a bedroom somewhere). Let’s say all 100m
see your message, with the ones who didn’t see it being made up for by
the couple million who see it later online or on the news.

If you paid three million, that would cost you about three cents a
person.  If you paid Twitter $250k and got five million followers, it
costs you five cents a person.

The Superbowl folks you market to once and it’s over. More than 50% of
the Twitter users will follow you on an ongoing basis if you post
creative, fun and helpful tweets.

Bottom line: Superbowl commercials are for one drunken Sunday, but
Twitter relationships can be for life.

What is so disruptive about Twitter
From my perspective, the most disruptive thing about Twitter is its
presence. It’s everywhere at all times in a way that only an AT&T “You
Will”-style commercial could have predicted in 1995 (or could explain
in 2009–funny how that goes huh?). People get and give Tweets from
the time they wake up until they fall asleep.

Twitter is a giant, open email box that we all hang out in every day.

The power of Twitter is yet to be fully understood, in the same way
email and the Web weren’t fully understood… except by the people who
made the AT&T “You Will” commercial. (Who the frack were those
geniuses anyway!??! If someone can tell me who did those commercials,
I’d like to take them to lunch!).

Oh yeah, I think I re-raise
Quick message to Twitter and their investors: I re-raise.

My new offer to Twitter: $500,000 for three years for @questions as a
suggested user in the sign-up process.

Ground rules:

a) We post no more than three absolutely AMAZING questions to the
@questions account per day.
b) None of those messages can be an advertisement… 100% of them have
to be actual content.
c) If you discontinue the autofollow program, we’ll take the $500,000
in followers at .10 each (i.e. 5m).

If you’re one of the 17 who made it to the bottom, I’m wondering what you think:

1. Am I crazy, or crazy like fox?
2. What’s the value of a Twitter follower?
3. What’s the value of of being one of “The Suggested?”

The way I see it, there are two ways to win the pot: raise or have the
best hand–in this case I think I’ll do both.

all the best,

Jason McCabe Calacanis
CEO & Founder, Mahalo.com

77 thoughts on “Why Twitter's 'Suggested Users' is the Next Superbowl Ad (or "Calacanis offers $500k for three years")

  1. This is one of the most sound comments I have seen on the Social Media tools.
    I kept not following you on purpose to learn from your strategies. After all,
    if people would be willing to consider this JUST ANOTHER money-making machine,
    we could relate to it in a positive way instead of pure awe or direct resentment.
    Good post, thank you!

  2. Twitter will move in the direction of something like this, they
    would be stupid not to. They have been trying to “monetize” for a hot
    minute now. Thanks for your insight Jason.

  3. Nice calculation, Jason. But I think $500k is too much since you can guarantee that your followers really interested in following you. Btw, if you can get million of followers without buying it, it’ll be great.:-)

  4. There is a guy on Twitter, his username is stockstef, there are rumors that he is working for an online advertising platform and maybe one of the suggested user with the most potential.

    I am kurious what happens…

  5. This is the first article about Twitter that actually demonstrated to me what potential value the service may have. Or at least what business value — I have yet to see the human value in telling no one that I am eating a grilled cheese sandwich.

    Thanks for the insight.

Leave a Reply