Twitter is so hot right now and everyone who is anyone seems to be on it. And, as is common with something popular, people are building Twitter clones and Twitter replacements like mad scientists gone awry.
But they seem surprised that they aren’t getting the same flood of traffic to their site that Twitter is getting.
Twice this past week I’ve had people tell me about a great business idea they have in which they basically built something that “is sure to be the next Twitter.” (When they say “the next Twitter” they mean “replacement Twitter clone” and not “an innovative site that will make Twitter obsolete in the same way that a car made a horse obsolete.”) And now they are looking to grow their userbase from zero to a bazillion.
Oh, and both times, within the same paragraph they added: “But I’m on a shoestring budget so I can’t afford a lot of marketing right now.” One person wanted me to produce an article — just one article! — and the other was going to attract traffic “with internet ranks” (but couldn’t tell me more than that).
While Twitter just might be a great idea whose time has come (and was therefore going to be successful regardless of how it was marketed), I think Twitter has a trajectory of growth that should be a lesson for anyone looking for overnight success:
First lesson: It didn’t happen overnight.
Twitter was started in 2006 and operated as an internal project until 2007 when it became its own business. During that time it posted giant screens at the SXSW festival to show streaming tweets and, as a result of being a central part of the festival, it grew dramatically. In the interim it has raised an estimated $57 million dollars. And it was only in 2009 that Twitter really broke through to become widely adopted and a “must have” communication tool for the Average Joe. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter)
Now let’s compare Twitter’s experience with that of the two people I mentioned earlier. I’m going to compare them on the three biggest factors: Time in business, budget, and strategy.
Time in business: 1 – 6 months for the two folks who inquired about my services… versus Twitter’s approximately 3 and a half years in business.
Budget: Admittedly nothing (or next to it) for those who were hoping I’d give them a break based on them becoming the next big thing… versus Twitter’s approximately $57 million.
Strategy: In the case of the two people I spoke to, their strategy went something like this: “Open for business, get a flood of traffic, retire.” Twitter, on the other hand, had a strategy that was much more organic and relationship-oriented. (And realistic). They grew slowly and made the right connections with people and cemented their success at SXSW.
If you’re thinking that your Twitter clone is going to be the next Twitter, please stop. There might be a Twitter clone that out-Twitters Twitter but I’m not going to hold my breath. And if you’re going to be successful at cloning and eclipsing the big name, and you don’t have anything else that makes you different, you’d better have one hell of a big budget.
By the way, this goes for the Google, YouTube, and Facebook clones, too.
If you really want to do something different, read this article to find out what the real next Twitter will be.