Another piece of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s plan to revamp the service and get more users to adopt it has been revealed. Twitter “may be” paying foreign wireless service operators to let users tweet for free on the feature phone version of Twitter, according to TechCrunch.
The strategy makes a lot of sense. Twitter needs new users and it’s unlikely they’re going to come from the U.S. Growth in U.S. Twitter users is slow. There are about 57 million users currently. Most of Twitter’s 255 million users are outside the U.S. Investors have driven down Twitter’s stock based largely on its paltry user growth.
So Costolo really, really needs new users to join Twitter.
As Facebook and Google repeatedly point out, the next large chunk of internet growth is going to come from developing countries where people are not yet online. In those countries, an old-fashioned dumbphone or feature phone is often a customer’s first experience of the mobile web, or even the internet at large. The problem is it’s easy to rack up data usage charges from tweeting. So Twitter has done a ton of deals — as many as 300 depending on how you count them — with foreign carriers to let people tweet for free using Twitter Access, the feature phone version of Twitter. Generally, people get a month or more of free tweets before regular charges kick in. Here is an example of one such deal. Twitter is presumably hoping customers will be so addicted the service they will stick with it when the charges kick in. Facebook has done something similar with a product called Facebook Zero or Facebook For Everyphone.
As for why Twitter is only free for a limited period of time in these emerging markets where the Twitter Access program goes live, that may be because Twitter itself, in some cases at least, is helping to cover those data charges. (Twitter declined to comment on this when asked.)
We had actually heard that Twitter has some 300 Twitter Zero deals underway, but that number seems to be referencing all of Twitter’s operator partnerships, we now understand, including the preloads and deals that allow for Twitter to work over SMS on phones without data plans.
Disclosure: The author owns Twitter stock.
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