Twitter looks to boost ad revenue in India

Firm will step up engagement with advertisers in at least 10 sectors, including banking and consumer packaged goods


Twitter will have 22 million users in India this year, a 30% rise from 17 million in 2014, according to a January report by market researcher Emarketer. Photo: AFP
Twitter will have 22 million users in India this year, a 30% rise from 17 million in 2014, according to a January report by market researcher Emarketer. Photo: AFP

Twitter Inc. has decided to boost its sales team in India and step up its engagement with advertisers in at least 10 sectors, including banking, consumer packaged goods, and car and mobile manufacturing, in an attempt to grab a bigger slice of India’s $1.1 billion digital and mobile Internet advertising pie.

The microblogging site, which has faced analyst criticism for not doing enough to boost revenue growth, aims to substantially grow its nascent three-member revenue team even as it explores over three dozen business sectors to ascertain the scope of the Indian market.

The renewed focus on Asia’s third largest economy comes at a time when growth in Twitter’s overall user base has slowed. India has however bucked the trend and turned out to be one of its few bright spots. Twitter will have 22 million users in India this year, a 30% rise from 17 million in 2014, according to a January report by market researcher Emarketer. It expects the website to have 40 million users in India in 2018.

Twitter has however continued to trail behind Facebook in India. Emarketer expects Facebook to have 136 million users in India in 2015 and expects that to climb to 211 million in 2018.

This limited penetration can be a hindrance to Twitter’s growth in the country, as the platform is still an urban phenomenon in India. According to experts, Facebook and Twitter have entirely different value propositions for advertisers. The former engages consumers for a longer term, positioning itself as a reach medium, while Twitter helps in amplifying the instant buzz for a topical campaign.

“Twitter has not percolated down to the tier-II/III markets and is a very urban phenomenon. If it is a launch campaign or a brand campaign, advertisers will opt for both Facebook and Twitter, spend on Facebook being higher for its greater reach. But repeat purchases are mostly driven through Facebook,” said Sanjay Ramakrishnan, co-founder and president of IceCream Labs, an advertising technology firm.

In the quarter ended 31 March, Twitter had 302 million monthly active users, a 5% growth from 288 million users at the end of the preceding quarter.

Twitter has also lagged Facebook in revenue. Facebook, led by Mark Zuckerberg, reported revenue of $3.5 billion for the quarter ended 31 March, as against Twitter’s $436 million in the corresponding period. While Facebook made $3.3 billion from advertisements, Twitter’s ad revenue stood at $388 million.

Twitter’s stunted growth has also prompted a reshuffle in the top deck. Chief executive Dick Costolo stepped down last month, while co-founder Jack Dorsey took over in an interim role.

Twitter’s big push in India was kickstarted in September last year, with the appointments of former MTS executive Anupam Dikhit, followed by Taranjeet Singh from BBC Worldwide in January and former Lenovo executive Apsara Chidambaram in June. Until last September, Mumbai-based digital advertising technology firm Komli Media was the only reseller for Twitter in the country.

It has now started offering its full stack of services in India, such as promoted tweets, accounts and trends, as well as TV targeting and mobile application promotion among others. It is currently working with about 500 brands in the country, including Yes Bank, IBM, Lenovo, Tata Motors, Kingfisher, Nissan and Mahindra.

Products designed specifically for the Indian market are, however, not on the anvil.

“Our products remain the same across the world, but we will customize the content from an India perspective,” Singh said in an interview.

Twitter strengthened its presence in India through the acquisition of ZipDial, a mobile marketing and technology company, in January this year. The acquisition also helped it set up an engineering office in Bengaluru. It has also made other acquisitions and partnerships to bolster its ad revenues.

It acquired marketing technology firm TellApart and live video streaming app Periscope to further strengthen its video ad offering. In 2012, it acquired Vine, a video looping service. It also acquired Niche, a company that connects advertisers with social media influencers. Besides, Twitter has partnered with Google’s DoubleClick platform to make its advertisement inventory available through the DoubleClick Bid Manager.

Despite the efforts, experts said tools for advertisers in Twitter are not as user-friendly as Facebook. “The tools for advertising on Twitter are not that matured. In comparison, Facebook ad tools are far more evolved. However, Facebook has been around for a longer time and Twitter is still evolving,” said Karthik Srinivasan, national lead, Social@Ogilvy, Ogilvy & Mather’s social media arm.

While social media firms are striving to capture a major share of the digital ad spend, Google still remains way ahead in terms of revenues. Experts estimate Google to account for about 60% of the overall digital ad spend.

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