Why AOL Will Buy Twitter

There’s just no way Twitter will make it all the way through 2010 as an independent company. Probably by summer, but no later than autumn, we’ll see Twitter scooped up and integrated into another service. There are a few potential candidates, but the one that seems to make the most sense is AOL. First, let’s look at reasons why Twitter will end up with someone; then we’ll look at why this someone has to be AOL.

Reason No. 1: Facebook Will Go Public

In a few months, Facebook will start feeling pressure from the marketplace to go public. Facebook’s investors will be interested in starting to gain back some value. What’s more, a string of other companies will look to Facebook to reinvigorate the stock market and herald another tech boom. Once Facebook goes public, we’ll see interest from companies like Zynga that have built massively successful games for the Facebook platform to also enter the public market. As Facebook becomes more important in the eyes of the market overall, Twitter will begin to burnish its own value and make sure it grabs its fair share of business news headlines. And Twitter will start looking for a good deal to secure a lot of capital to spend on new products and partnerships.

Reason No. 2: Twitter Traffic Will Plateau

Twitter’s daily traffic hit about 22 million users back in June and has stayed there ever since. This number is a bit of misdirection because it only accounts for people actually visiting Twitter.com and doesn’t include people who use Twitter’s service through third-party applications or via mobile phones. However, Twitter’s growth has slowed down and may not reach Facebook’s scale. For Twitter to really grow it needs a major influx of new users and it needs them delivered all at once. If Twitter could move closer to 100 million users, the network may change from a small group of people talking with one another to a global media network.

Reason No. 3: Twitter Has Leverage Over the Big Guys

Twitter was a profitable company in 2009, thanks to deals it cut with Google and Microsoft to allow indexing of tweets. As Twitter became more of a cultural phenomenon, the search guys saw the need to get the content being created on the system into their indexes and onto results pages. Twitter has demonstrated through these deals that it’s in a unique position to exert leverage over companies far more massive than itself. This makes Twitter a very valuable chip to have for companies looking to negotiate and/or compete against the giants of the Internet industry.

Why AOL?

So, as Twitter finds itself in this environment, it will be very interested in listening to other companies that can help keep its service strong. AOL will emerge as the number one suitor because it will be both motivated to make the purchase and Twitter will be able to offer a number of things to AOL. Here are reasons why:

Reason No 1: Tim Armstrong

Tim Armstrong is the (still) recently named CEO of AOL. Tim, who built Google’s sales force, truly understands what it takes to build a serious company. But, he is a new CEO brought in to rescue a company that has been struggling for years. He needs a big win that will show the world that AOL is a serious Web 2.0 player. Buying Twitter will get him that, plus he will then have that bargaining chip to go back to his former employer, as well as anyone else, and cut deals in the way he’s accustomed to: from a position of strength.

Reason No. 2: 100 Million+ AIM Users

There are well over 100 million people who use AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). It’s hard to say what the real number is, or how many of them actively use the service. But whatever the number, it represents a solid base of people who use the service in their daily lives and can be either converted over to Twitter or simply counted, if Twitter and AIM can be integrated. That gets Twitter a serious mass of users that pushes it from niche tool to global network. And if that happens, it means that advertisers will be more interested in using the service as a marketing channel.

Reason No. 3: AOL’s Sales Force Can Drive AIM and Twitter

AOL has long tried to get brands to use AIM for business, and Twitter is ramping up to offer more business services. The fact is brands have never really embraced AIM, other than to place ads on the interface. Brands have embraced Twitter, but not in ways that can immediately generate cash — brands don’t have to pay to use the service. Twitter needs not only a solid business model, but also a sales force to bring it out to companies. AOL has this group of people and can immediately get people in front of brands and agencies, pitching and winning business.

All of these factors really only point in one direction, and that is an AOL-owned Twitter that is pushed up to the front of the social network and business world.

What if I’m Wrong?

I’m willing to admit that I may just be wrong on this one. If we’ve learned anything from the Internet era, it’s that the unexpected is bound to happen. Twitter may decide to become a Wikipedia-style non-profit. Or it may get a huge infusion of cash from some foreign investor. Or maybe they just doggedly decide to go it alone.

Whatever the situation, we will definitely see a massive amount of competition in the social media space in 2010, as companies jockey to offer a greater breadth of services to both consumers and brands. Already we’ve seen a major shift with the social networks away from simply advertising to allowing brands to actually conduct business and support. That’s a game-changer, for sure.

On the outside chance that I’m right about AOL buying Twitter, we’ll see some new services. But even if I’m wrong, we’re still going to end up with a very robust social networking marketplace in 2010.

Got an alternative theory? Tweet it over to me at garyst3in or leave it in the comments below.

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