Say goodbye to CoTweet. As of February 15, the free version will no longer be offered. Free customers will be given a chance to transition to ExactTarget’s new Social Engage product that is essentially an improved version of CoTweet’s enterprise product, but they’ll eventually have to pay for it. And frankly, they should have to. The innovation and integration with ExactTarget’s long-standing excellent email suite isn’t something the company should give away.

And it’s not something they have to. ET supplies email marketing and (now) social media management solutions to thousands of customers worldwide. There’s a barrier to entry from a price perspective that lies generally just north of what most small businesses can really afford. But that is to be expected from technology companies, especially those rooted in Silicon Valley (which CoTweet was, but ExactTarget wasn’t. ET is headquartered in Indianapolis and was co-founded by my friend Chris Baggott, now Chairman of Compendium.)

Still, CoTweet’s lifecycle is what we have to expect from technology companies. It goes like this:

  • Start free to gain users.
  • Reach critical mass and start charging, but leave a bare bones free product so you don’t alienate anyone.
  • Begin focusing on enterprise companies that have more money to spend on your service than small businesses.
  • Get acquired.
  • Phase out the free so it doesn’t continue to distract your money-making ability.
Image representing CoTweet as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

It’s good business, even if it hurts small business. But Silicon Valley, and technology/software companies in other similarly labeled cradles of the world, don’t much care about small businesses. No one ever got rich helping the little people.

Mind you, this isn’t a criticism of ExactTarget. It’s a lamenting of the state of our world. I spoke with CoTweet co-founder and CEO Jesse Engle last week about the move. Jesse is one of a handful of technology executives who will occasionally call and fill me in on things. I’ve always appreciated that. We’ve talked about a variety of things over the last year or so, some CoTweet/ET related and others not. Jesse is a really good dude who wouldn’t turn his back on anyone. He’s also a damn fine businessman. Which is why CoTweet is being retired.

It’s sad, but it’s business. Jesse and his cohorts are doing the right thing. The freemium social media engagement tool marketplace is saturated and if ExactTarget can’t continue to service the free product to keep it competitive, why waste people’s time?

This will continue to happen to the platforms we love so. None of them really focus on small businesses. And if they do, they soon won’t. They’re all going after enterprise clients. That’s where the money is. Get a wad of them and you can get acquired. Get acquired and you can cash out, sit on a beach and plot your next company.

For more than a year, from 2009 through much of 2010, I had a great relationship with PostRank. They even volunteered to help me produce some of the most popular posts in the history of this website — rankings of the top blogs on various platforms. When I reached out to them after their acquisition by Google to perhaps refresh the lists, I was politely told they don’t focus their resources on that type of work any more.

uBerVu is one of the latest companies to pivot toward the alleged greener pastures. The upstart social media monitoring company was lauded by many, including me, for finally offering a social media monitoring solution that wasn’t hundreds of dollars per month. In the fall, they reorganized, refocused and are now hundreds of dollars per month.

As a business person, I don’t blame them. I understand.

But I hate it.

No one’s watching out for the little guy anymore. It’s a rush to acquisition, then increased revenues and cash outs. And to technology companies, small business isn’t good business. I worry that’s going to leave 97 percent of the world’s entrepreneurs and business owners out in the cold.

Even the handful of angel investors and venture capitalists I’ve talked to about the problem shrug it off. You don’t get rich helping little people. (If you have a soft spot in your heart for small businesses and have some money to invest, we should talk.)

Maybe one day I’ll be in a position to do something about it. In all likelihood I won’t. Doesn’t mean it won’t bug me as, one-by-one, our favorite free tools are set to pasture.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/taylorhulyk Taylor Hulyk

    Noooooo! I love CoTweet. Now I have to find something else to use. So far, I haven’t found a freemium that contends. Any suggestions, Jason?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      For most of what CoTweet offered, Taylor, you can get it out of the free versions of TweetDeck, Hootsuite, Seismic and others. The user interface won’t be the same, but the functionality is there.

  • http://andrewnorcross.com Norcross

    I’m always felt that if your business relies on it, pay for it. The freemium model rarely works on the company’s end, and the user base isn’t any easier to work with. In fact, they often become just as irate and complain about all the small things or changes that take place.

    For myself, I pay for my invoicing / accounting software, graphics programs (Adobe) and build the rest. Things like twitter, etc are great but if they disappeared tomorrow my life wouldn’t change.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I hear ya, Andrew, but why can’t there be a software company that scales the functionality and serves the small business person? Doesn’t have to be free, but there’s a huge jump from freemium to what these enterprise-focused platforms offer. We need a social media management system in the $50 per month range. I’m not saying free is always the way to go, but there’s no middle ground in this space right now.

      • http://askaaronlee.com Aaron Lee

        I think the social management that fits that price range would be Sprout Social :D

        • http://sproutsocial.com Brittany at Sprout Social

          Just wanted to jump in and say thanks for mentioning Sprout Social! And we do fit that $50 price point for smaller businesses as well as scale for larger companies and teams. Have you guys had a chance to check us out recently? 

      • http://andrewnorcross.com Norcross

        I’d like to think that if the need was really there, then the market would fill it. But I don’t do any monitoring of that nature, so I really don’t have a basis of comparison. But if that need is really there, why not build it? (I’m not being snarky, it’s a genuine question)

        So many companies rush to get VC funding that they’re only left with the acquisition option.

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Well, I did dangle that “if you wanna help small biz and have money to invest, we should talk” thing out there. Heh.

      • Brannan

        I’m hesitant to say that the market is small business because you need digital strategy to find value in subscription services.   At Raven Internet Marketing Tools, we think there’s a large market of smart digital marketers who need something between free and enterprise. That’s why we’ve created a product at $99/month for SEO, social media, PPC, email, and analytics. And we have no intention of going enterprise. We lost an enterprise client two months ago — and we were relieved. 

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Good points, Brannan. And Raven is one of the few companies I know of that is offering what I think is largely missing from the marketplace. Good on ya. Now go corner it! Heh.

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Good points, Brannan. And Raven is one of the few companies I know of that is offering what I think is largely missing from the marketplace. Good on ya. Now go corner it! Heh.

  • http://sendible.com/ Garth

    Sendible.com is still one of the most affordable solutions available at the moment and they don’t charge hundreds per month!! They claim to provide “social media management software for small businesses”.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good call, Garth. I’ve looked at Sendible before. Nice platform. UK focused, I believe, but certainly viable.

  • http://twitter.com/Kartek Kartik

    I wish there was a way when analytics firms and social media management firms try to offer the service free to existing users, probably ones who have been using it for ages as a gesture towards their loyalty and charge for new users.Frankly the businesspace is getting very crowded, and I hear of many new age firms which are dabbling in monitoring and analytics, I knew of only SM2, Radian6 and Sysomos a year or two ago, and now they are so many of them.

  • http://askaaronlee.com Aaron Lee

    I have always been a fan of cotweet. Everyone knows it too because when they ask me what I recommend, i say cotweet. 

    I understand their decision to focus on what they are strong at. Hootsuite had a better business model to charge people for their services though because it gave users different options.  

    Another thing is, they left many in the dark because no one knew how much social engage was going to cost. Which led to people leaving.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for chiming in Aaron. And I agree on Sprout Social – Good platform.

  • http://www.conceptbakery.com Klaus Holzapfel

    Well spoken Jason. We had that experience with Filtrbox which provided what we needed for our clients. The owner/founder even guaranteed to me that we were grandfathered in and our rate would never go up. Next we got a call form Jive (purchase Filtrbox) throwing a ton of services at us that we didn’t need and increasing our monthly rate by over 1000%.

    We are using a couple of different solutions now but the only way to ensure price stability is to develop our own in-house tools. RSS feeds can go a long way…
    Hootsuite covers the engagement part for most of us. There is really no need to tie this piece into sentiment analytics, etc…All 3rd party engagement tools have a potential vulnerability built in:Facebook prefers us to post at the wall directly and avoid 3rd party tools.Twitter will find ways to punish users that avoid looking at their ads.

    It is also worth noticing that even some of the larger brands aren’t total number crunchers and are willing to spend 5 digits a month for analytics and social media monitoring and engagement (I know this form or budget discussions). 

    At the end this is a people business and budgets for many campaigns are limited. Robots don’t run the show. You can buy a lot of media for the money you could sink into software subscriptions.The hungry software companies providing overkill solutions might eventually end up in the next phase of the cycle that you didn’t list: someone else providing better service for less and them going belly up.

    The only tools that don’t go through that cycle are the ones that suck. 

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for sharing, Klaus. Good to hear that perspective.

  • http://ducknetweb.blogspot.com/ Medicalquack

    Just a series of one company eating up another’s algorithms:)

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Heh.

  • http://www.nedcon.ro/ Thomas Gamble

    Don’t stop writing, you’ve given me lots of good info!

  • Anonymous

    37 Signals seems to do pretty damn well targeting small businesses. Oh but wait, they’re not backed by venture capital. And they’re not in Silicon Valley. The best and worst thing about a “startup” is VC. Sure it’s probably awesome to get millions of dollars to build out your next great idea into the dream you once had… to grow to millions of users who love it. But investors want a payout – and they typically want it sooner than later, which means one thing: acquisition. There are a lot of insiders who have talked about the process in detail, but the fact is the founders of these companies are accountable to their investors. Even if there’s a solid business model to serve small business over the long haul, they have to take the short victory (acquisition). I’d love to create a startup that served small businesses (like my own) but I wouldn’t do it in Silicon Valley and if I did get investors, I’d make sure I retained control so I wasn’t forced to change my focus when an offer came along from Google.

  • Anonymous

    37 Signals seems to do pretty damn well targeting small businesses. Oh but wait, they’re not backed by venture capital. And they’re not in Silicon Valley. The best and worst thing about a “startup” is VC. Sure it’s probably awesome to get millions of dollars to build out your next great idea into the dream you once had… to grow to millions of users who love it. But investors want a payout – and they typically want it sooner than later, which means one thing: acquisition. There are a lot of insiders who have talked about the process in detail, but the fact is the founders of these companies are accountable to their investors. Even if there’s a solid business model to serve small business over the long haul, they have to take the short victory (acquisition). I’d love to create a startup that served small businesses (like my own) but I wouldn’t do it in Silicon Valley and if I did get investors, I’d make sure I retained control so I wasn’t forced to change my focus when an offer came along from Google.

  • http://www.marketingtechblog.com Douglas Karr

    While I agree that it’s difficult to service small businesses with small business profits, I’d add that there are a lot of reasons for companies to buy and close other companies – including talent, patents, or just plain having a Silicon Valley office location.  The “inside” scoop that I heard from my friends at ExactTarget is that they’d been under pressure to acquire another company for a while AND they wanted a presence in Silicon Valley. CoTweet was a (very) cheap, low risk purchase.

    It surely wasn’t about buying a social company. While I have a personal love for ExactTarget (having been employed there in the mid/early days), simply put… they bought something that they really didn’t know how to use themselves. While they have great employees – many of whom are social – they aren’t a social media company.  The only leader there who was social there was Chris Baggott… who left to start a company that was in the social space.

    CoTweet had tons of opportunity with little competition… but after it was purchased, it seems that it died a very long death.  It never kept up with the competition and was never in the spotlight with it’s big brother.  What ExactTarget got was a nice West Coast address – what they’ve been after for a very long time.  It wasn’t about serving the industry on this one… it was about serving themselves.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Interesting perspective, Doug. Not sure I totally agree. CoTweet didn’t die a slow death. The talent and tool was enhanced and built to integrate into ET’s new suite of social products. The free product was ignored for that reason. Do I think their new offering is on par with other enterprise SMMS platforms? Probably not, but I don’t know for certain as I’ve not seen it first hand. But while having a Silicon Valley address was a big plus for ET, I think there’s a lot more to it than just that. Still, interesting perspective that has a lot of truth to it, I’m sure.

      • http://www.marketingtechblog.com Douglas Karr

        Time will tell, Jason!

        Douglas Karr

  • Pingback: Social Is Here To Stay, But Not CoTweet!

  • http://www.briandeyo.blogspot.com Brian Deyo

    I am bummed that CoTweet is going to be only enterprise from here on out, but I think you are missing a bigger and more positive point.

    Even though many of the silicon valley startups end up moving into the more lucrative enterprise space and kill their freemium model, in the meantime, small businesses that are savy get the advantage of a bunch of amazing free software that they get to shape and improve. That is a huge advantage for small businesses that shouldn’t be overlooked.

    It is a  nice natural progression. As a small business you get to use smaller, but awesome tools that are agile and adding features at a rapid pace. Some of them die off or go premium, but in the meantime you get great stuff for free and the switching cost isn’t too bad because you are a small business. Sometimes these products even help your small business grow into a big business and along the way at some point you become willing to pay for the services that helped you get their. 

    It really is an advantage for small businesses. They are more agile, get free stuff, and get to grow with their partners. Big business are slow moving, bloated, and have to pay a TON for software that sometimes is customized poorly, not supported well, and definitely not understood by the users.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      That’s a good perspective, Brian. It loses a bit with me though because while the small business may get access to some good free platforms for a while, they’re then thrown out with the trash and forced to change to different platforms once the free are phased out. Temporary good for long-term bad. It’s a good, point though. Just forces small businesses into nomadic-like use of technology.

  • http://womeninbusinessradio.com Michele Price

    Funny how our previous conversations keep coming around.  If 97% of the business community is small businesses, then why is it so hard for a company to create a solution for their needs at an affordable rate.  Sounds too much like an excuse to not think creatively to me.

    My beef with this is companies ask the small business to participate, then have us help them create and build a superior product than they originally conceived… then throw those users to the wolves.  Sounds like corporate greed to me. 

    I am all for everyone making money, BUT we can’t all go after the enterprise client.  There are only so many of them AND that would mean a lot of us would have no purpose in this world.

    I refuse to think we cannot find a solution to meet those 97% of businesses.  One that is affordable and effective.

    And yes, I am bummed because I was a cotweet user and do not see the same solution that is as easy to use in any of the alternatives suggested.

    Dragging my feet to hootsuite-just detest their interface – grumble grumble.

  • stephanwhite

    It’s good business, even if it hurts small business. But Silicon Valley, and technology/software companies in other similarly labeled cradles of the world, don’t much care about small businesses. No one ever got rich
    helping the little people.


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