Will @Amex help Twitter to make #money?

American Express is rolling out a micro-payment system to the social network

It’s the perennial problem with new social-media companies. How do the brains behind them get anything more than plaudits and maybe the odd OBE for their troubles? How can you turn a platform of influence – a virtual soapbox – into a money-spinner? Man cannot live on plaudits alone.

Certainly Twitter co-founder and chief Jack Dorsey has been clear about his wish to monetarise the microblogging site he launched in 2006. In its infancy it was quite sniffy about advertising, permitting any at all only in 2010.

Of late, though, many had assumed that was the way the site would go: becoming a giant billboard, with promoted tweets and trends the means to draw the bucks. Dorsey said as much at this year’s DLD tech conference: “The market has vetted [our strategy] and confirmed that they want to keep using it.”

Now, though, it seems Twitter won’t so much be a billboard as a shopping mall. American Express users on the site will, as of this week, be able to buy products by using a specific hashtag in tweets.

The @AmexSync account will then tweet back with a confirmation hashtag. Then you retweet that, AmEx will ping you a confirmation email, along with a 15-minute window in which to confirm the purchase of that 48in TV was yours. Your card is then charged and the goods are delivered to your billing address.

There was only a single product available on Monday: a $25 American Express gift card reduced to $15. Though more was promised for this morning.

The system is a double whammy of a money-spinner. Brands taking part raise revenue directly from sales, while also marketing their product with each hashtagged tweet. “This really is a step in a new direction for social media,” says Neil Saunders, managing director of Conlumino, a retail research agency. “It allows it to act as a conduit for payment and it is incredibly simple and straightforward to use a hashtag, which everyone is familiar with. The next step will likely be that they let people use it to move money between each other, too.”

Whether the devoted and vocal Twitterati will like their medium’s slow transformation from soapbox to billboard to full-on shopping mall remains to be tweeted.

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