When I first heard about Twitter's upcoming tip jar feature, I was a little underwhelmed. But lately I've had a change of heart.
I've said plenty about how I think Twitter is setting itself up to become one of the best platforms for creators. But next to Twitter's other upcoming blockbuster features — especially Super Follows, which will allow users to post to a private feed for paid subscribers — the tip jar announcement initially struck me as somewhat trivial.
Donors, I reasoned, are more frugal and unpredictable than paid subscribers, so tips aren't going to bring in much money for people.
What made me come around isn't exactly that I was "wrong" about this. It's just that I now see all of this as a feature rather than a bug.
Specifically, I can now think of at least three reasons why tips will make Twitter better. And not just for creators, but for everyone.
Hear me out:
Tipping psychology is different than buying psychology.
Buying is transactional, and often impersonal. Faceless corporations excel at this game. I give you this cash, you give me that product. No "thank you" necessary. That cash was my "thank you."
Tipping, on the other hand, is deeply personal. It's about support, gratitude, advocacy. Here corporations struggle to keep up with creators. You make the changes I want to see in the world and I send you a token of my support. You help me in a way that really resonates with me and I give you a financial show of appreciation. Ideally with a personal message attached.
Now there's an extent to which this favoritism toward creators will also be true for Super Follows (again: Twitter's upcoming paid subscription service for private feeds), but just not to the same degree. Take the @nytimes. You can imagine that account making serious money on a private breaking news feed. But since they're essentially an anonymous storefront, people won't be eager to send them tips.
The tip incentive will change what people tweet about. This might sound circular, but they'll motivate creators to tweet the kind of value people might pay for.
For example, two kinds of tweets that do well right now are aphorisms — compact, cleverly worded sayings about the world (see naval's feed) — and long-form instructional threads (see Julian's feed). Both forms get shared widely if done well, but instructional threads are probably more likely to "convert" to donations since a) they tend to provide more explicit value and b) they give the author more surface area to express their personality, opinions, vulnerabilities, and the other trust-enhancing qualities that make donors pull out their wallets.
A final admirable note on the tipping system is it won't put a bunch of valuable content behind paywalls the way Super Follows and paid newsletters will. Writers can get paid for their content while still reaching readers who are strapped for cash.
This isn't a knock on paywalls. Super Follows, for their part, will bring a lot of great new content to Twitter that's currently getting published elsewhere. But the Twitter ecosystem as a whole will be a lot better with donations in the mix.