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Twitter Outside The US

Twitter, one of Asia’s most popular social networks, is getting serious about sustaining and monetizing its massive user base in the region, opening offices in Australia, Korea and India, along with a regional headquarters in Singapore, over the past 18 months.

The company established its first Asian outpost, in Japan, in 2008.

“That’s a concrete example of a company that, just a few years ago, had users around the world but didn’t have meaningful presence in many of the places in Asia that are important,” remarks Shailesh Rao, Twitter’s Singapore-based VP for Asia-Pacific, Latin America and emerging markets.

“Today we do, and it unfolded in a really short amount of time.”

Asia-Pacific is Twitter’s biggest and fastest-growing region, where the presence of two big drivers – the enduring popularity of TV, combined with rapid adoption of mobile lifestyles – bodes well for the conversational, mobile-friendly platform.

Indonesia and Japan rank among Twitter’s top five markets worldwide by usage, Rao explains, while Korea and India are growing fast.

The challenge is converting this activity into income. While Twitter’s APAC revenues are rising off a low base, 72% is still generated by the US alone, even though 77% of Twitter’s users live elsewhere.

“Our regional focus is first and foremost on growing our advertising business,” Rao declares. “We’ve just started scratching the surface for what is possible for advertisers and agencies in this region.”

Going Beyond Facebook

While FMCG and travel brands are in the vanguard, in Asia most ad categories have started exploring what Twitter has to offer, using simple ad buys as well as organic growth to marshal on-site traffic and engagement.

As brand-owners become more comfortable with social media, they are starting to look beyond Facebook.

Twitter’s size and prominence, as well as its ability to capture shared interests, makes it an appealing place to try out next.

“What is apparent is a growing awareness that not all relevant audiences reside or behave the same on each platform,” notes Derek Tan, regional executive director for Rally, a social media agency within IPG Mediabrands.

“As brands become more aware of the need to engage, and not just push content and hope for the best, platforms that reward such behavior such as Twitter begin to gain more traction.”

Twitter is expanding its toolkit for marketers, embarking on tests around ecommerce while shoring up emerging data sales and analysis services with a series of acquisitions.

Advertising remains the primary source of revenue and growth in the near term, however.

One of Rao’s first moves after joining Twitter was hiring Steven Kalifowitz out of digital agency R/GA to promote Twitter’s services among major Asian advertisers, explaining how they can incorporate text, images and video to tap into tweeters’ existing interests and conversations.

“In terms of what it is and what it does, Twitter is my choice of platform at the moment,” says Simon Kemp, regional managing partner for Asia at digital agency, We Are Social.

“The opportunities that it provides for conversation and interaction on a public level about a variety of topics are unparalleled.”

Personal and political

While Twitter often hits the headlines around large events such as national elections and global sports, as a ready source of news as well as a channel to help it spread, the service also records smaller moments in people’s lives where brands can also play a role.

This could be joggers setting off for a run, or feeling hungry when they get back, Rao suggests.

“It’s the same process advertisers went through when they first learned how to advertise on a portal, then on Google, then how to advertise on Facebook,” he says.

“We see the responsibility on our side, to invest time and energy to educate advertisers, but they also need to see the opportunity.”

One of those everyday moments where Rao sees potential is people tweeting while watching TV.

Twitter is reaching out to broadcasters and brands with products like Amplify, which incorporates TV clips in tweets, as well as Twitter TV Ratings, which gauges audience involvement in a show.

Both have launched in Australia and Japan. Rao hopes to see wider rollout in the region.

Such measures could help transition advertisers from an existing interruptive ad model to a greater focus on engagement around conversations, muses Sebastian Rennie, chief investment officer for media agency MEC in Australia.

In the short term however, leveraging broadcaster relationships with advertisers should provide a boost to Twitter’s own sales teams.

For Rao, the main barriers are how fast brands can adopt more responsive marketing and rely less on preplanned campaigns.

“I would not characterize the process of using Twitter as hard from an advertising standpoint,” he says.

“It is the challenge and responsibility of marketers and agencies to get maximum impact from their marketing investments.”


World Cup: An Exercise in Growth

While Germany may have won the trophy, the recent World Cup in Brazil was a victory of sorts for Twitter.

Major events are central to Twitter’s user growth strategy, both as drivers of activity and sign-up.

Well before the tournament began, Twitter made the rounds to all 32 national federations whose teams qualified for Brazil, ensuring each had an account and was prepared to use it during the tournament.

Most star players already had a presence as a part of their sponsorship deals.

“Every single team in the World Cup, all 32 countries, are on the platform and that didn’t happen by luck,” Rao comments.

“It happened because we put in the hard work to work with every national team explaining the value of our proposition, of connecting with fans and followers, and making sure they have a voice and presence on the platform.”

Twitter leveraged this access by offering users a persistent link to players, news and scores at the top of their feed. Rao also partnered with Indonesian telco Indosat to offer its 60 million subs customized World Cup news, to help build the Twitter habit.

“Having the right content on the platform is an important part of the formula for us, to make sure we grow usage in the region,” Rao says.

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