New Delhi: Parminder Singh, managing director (South East Asia, India, Middle East and North Africa) for microblogging site Twitter Inc., was in New Delhi to talk to the media about his company’s plans for the upcoming cricket World Cup. In an interview with Mint, Singh spoke about the largest spenders on the site, findings of its latest transparency report and how video will be key to its strategy both from a user as well as brand standpoint. Edited excerpts:
What should we expect from Twitter in 2015?
Lot more action on the sales side. We have hired a business head, Taranjeet Singh. You’ll see us working out some brilliant integrations with brands. Just be closer to brands and agencies with our own sales presence. You can expect video to be at the centre of a lot of action here on Twitter, thanks to our consumer video launch and also from the brands end. Third thing would be the concept of offline and online integration. Twitter enhancing your TV presence and vice versa.
What are your growth targets set for India?
We don’t give country-specific numbers. If you look at what we announced in our Q3 results, our total revenue was $360 million out of which $320 million was advertising revenue. Our overall revenue grew 109%, but our international revenue—and obviously India is an important part of that—grew 176%. That’s an important part for us. So, international growth is very strong and India continues to be one of our fastest growing markets.
While India is a growth market for Twitter, user acquisition growth has been slower than Facebook. Is that worrisome?
India is a mobile country, if you look at our revenue, 80% of it came from mobile and it’s growing at a very fast pace. Mobile is a natural home for us which is why we are very well placed in India. There are three pillars here that are particularly encouraging that I’m very excited about—sports, politics and entertainment. Last year was an election year, it was called the Twitter election, and there were 60 million tweets during the election. Mr (Narendra) Modi has now become the second-most followed politician after Barack Obama with about 8 million followers when last counted. The third pillar is entertainment. These three pillars stand for what this country is passionate about and they are playing out very well on Twitter.
Which categories are the largest spenders on Twitter?
Twitter represents what’s happening in the country, and if you look at what are the key things that people really talk about— it’s mobile phones, so, we have companies such as Samsung, Zolo, Gionee, which are doing pathbreaking campaigns on Twitter. Also cars, it’s a fast growing automobile market; so, brands such as Audi, Mercedes and Mahindra are doing very well on Twitter. It’s a reflection of what’s happening in the economy and the socio-economic landscape of the county.
You made your first acquisition in India with Zipdial. What do you plan to achieve through that?
I won’t go into the specifics of the deal. They have a healthy operating working model. This deal is about data versus non-data, there are lots of people who are not on data and obviously there’s a natural synergy for us. It’s a deal complementary to our business.
What are your plans for the World Cup?
I think social media and Twitter have obviously come a long way and occupy much more centre stage in people’s lives and we think it’s going to be very interesting and absorbing World Cup both offline and online thanks to the interesting combination on social media.
What we did was to help brands understand this phenomenon a little, we conducted a research in India with TNS to understand the dynamics of cricket viewing using social media on social media. The first question we asked was, is the average Twitter user a cricket fan? We found that 89% of Twitter users are cricket fans, they follow cricket in some way—either they follow sports, people or teams. 84% of cricket fans on Twitter intend to follow the cricket World Cup.
The next question was, are you interested in following brands? We know these guys are cricket fans but are they interested in following brands? It turns out that 95% of them follow at least one brand and they show an inclination to follow brands.
Next finding was about that one trigger or communication we need to make that will make these people follow a brand. Around 61% said that if you provide me updates on the World Cup, I’ll be open to following your brand.
Globally you’ve also announced that you’re expanding promoted tweets. What are the reasons for that?
The inherent point that is being made here is that the reach of Twitter is not just the users and people who come to the app but well beyond that. Can we get our brands and people to get meaningful messages on those tweets whether its from the brand or otherwise, outside of Twitter? For instance, the reach of the Ellen selfie, the most retweeted tweet, was in billions, that tweet was seen outside of Twitter whether on television, newspapers, etc. That just consolidated our position as a complementary medium.
To what extent does Twitter share privacy data of its subscribers with the government?
We have a transparency report that comes out every six months. Our last transparency report for the period January to June 2014 showed that from India, we had a total of 16 requests from the government. 13% of these requests, we produced some information in return for the requests made. Accounts specified in these 16 requests were 44. In terms of removal, we had 5 requests from government agencies and police offices, etc., 9 accounts were specified in this; percentage of content withheld is zero. Accounts withheld and tweets withheld is also zero. These are very low numbers for the size of our platform.
We want to make sure that this is a medium where people are free to express their opinion but at the same time we think it has to be done responsibly. There should be a very clear articulation of what content is right and can be put on Twitter. We make sure that our content policy is very clearly articulated and its within a tweet’s reach. There should be no ambiguity about what content is appropriate on Twitter. If you find any content that’s not appropriate on Twitter, you can report it to us very easily. We have a team called the trust and safety team; that team works 24 hours to address these issues. We want to invest more and more in this team so that our response time is faster... so that people get redressal fast.