Why Gina Rinehart should buy Twitter

If the mining magnate and Australia's richest person is really serious about building media clout she is probably better off not wasting her billions on newspapers.

We may never hear directly from mining billionaire Gina Rinehart on her reasons for buying up a big chunk of media group Fairfax. There’s certainly no shortage of opinions and conspiracy theories being passed around on what’s behind the investment.

Most commentators agree if she’s looking to influence media coverage she will have a hard time gaining any traction with the Fairfax board, even if she were to take majority ownership.

Eureka Report contributor Tom Elliott has posed the hypothesis that, like many people her age, Rinehart is simply struggling to comprehend how much world media has changed in the past five years, and still thinks a newspaper is what forms opinion.

The reality is newspapers aren’t as influential as they used to be and audiences continue to seek out opinion from a variety of sources, often to confirm the beliefs they already hold.

Platforms like Twitter are growing in popularity as consumers seek out real-time discussions and instant news. The influence and opinion able to be conferred through Twitter is now being acknowledged by newsrooms around the world, and concern about that is driving a raft of social media policies that staff are being forced to adhere to.

The UK operation of Sky News joined that list yesterday when it issued new rules that restrict what its reporters can do via Twitter, including warning them not to tweet about non-work subjects from their professional accounts, or retweet other people in case it’s seen as an endorsement of their opinion.

But despite all the new rules, there’s no shortage of journalists willing to convey their opinions via Twitter. In fact, influence on Twitter is now deemed so important that there are multiple sites popping up to measure who has the most influence and why. And then there are lists like this one, of the most influential journalists on Twitter. All of this is useful stuff for anyone looking to target journalists with the ability to sway opinion.

Rather than spending millions on Fairfax, perhaps Hancock Prospecting should be looking to new media platforms. Rinehart could do worse than buying Twitter, and here are five reasons why.

1. It might actually make her some money

Twitter is still hot property in the social media industry, reportedly knocking back a $US10 billion offer from Google in early 2011.

But Twitter’s value on paper and what it actually generates in revenue have been poles apart, until more recently. According to predictions from online market intelligence group eMarketer, Twitter will generate $US259.9 million in revenue in 2012, up from $US139.5 million in 2011. By 2014 that number is expected to be closer to $540 million. It’s no open cut mine, but for a business with a small staff and even smaller infrastructure base, it’s not bad.

2. She could control the entire Twitter advertising network

Twitter now has more than a million Australian users, and globally it’s around 400 million. That’s an audience much larger than any Australian media outlet has to offer. Twitter recently started inserting paid advertisements into the feed of tweets its users read, so there’s plenty of opportunity for punchy political messages to be added to the mix.

Like Google, the majority of Twitter’s revenue comes from advertising so any owner would have to weigh the benefits of vetting advertisers with the money being turned away.

3. She could selectively censor tweets

Twitter recently revealed it will look at the IP address from which its site is viewed to determine whether to withhold content. That means it can now censor tweets deemed unsuitable in certain countries, while keeping them available to the rest of the world.

That’s a powerful tool for anyone looking to suppress discussion on certain topics in certain countries.

4. She could use it to mount a political campaign

Twitter has become a critical tool in any politican’s arsenal, after US President Barack Obama became the first to harness the social networking tool to recruit supporters and boost donations. In 2007 Obama was seen as a long shot, but by effectively using social media he was able to organise support more quickly and inexpensively than his competitors. Obama is again using Twitter for his current re-election campaign, providing a useful case study for anyone with political ambitions.

5. She's among the few Australians that could afford it

Forbes has recently estimated Gina Rinehart’s personal wealth at $US18 billion. That puts her ahead of the founders of Google, and in the game with any serious Twitter suitor. There’s no other Australian business leader in that category.

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