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Maya Hari, MD, Asia Pacific, Twitter shares how brands are banking on innovations to drive more engagement with consumers as well as four focus areas to drive ad revenues in India – the Government, Automotive, Mobile & Tech and Consumer Packaged Goods



Q] You took over as MD of India and SE Asia at a time when Twitter was going through a particularly rough phase. How has the process of settling in been? Tell us about your role now.

The year 2016 was a defining year for Twitter. We doubled down on making sure that we focused on our priorities, be it product or content partnerships.  We stepped back to analyse what’s important to Twitter. One of the key things we did was define what Twitter is as a platform. Twitter is the place where conversations happen and people come here to find out what’s happening in sports, entertainment or news. The process that the company went through globally meant that we needed to align and make sure that the entire company was nimble and organized, which is why we went through some changes. We have actually come through now and if you look at our product strategy and results, our audience has accelerated for five quarters in a row. We reported a 14% year-on-year growth in our daily active usage and this is a global phenomenon, across all of our big markets. It’s a good time for me to come in, when the company is refining its point of view, our products are working, our audience is accelerating and it’s a great base to be able to grow APAC from. APAC continues to fuel our growth. The region has a number of high growth markets with large audiences.


Q] What is India’s significance as a market for Twitter from a strategic standpoint?

Asia has some of our largest markets globally; markets such as Japan, India, Indonesia are growing very fast. Looking specifically at India, it’s now one of the largest and fastest growing markets. A couple of things are quite defining for India, and those are important to us. One, bringing great content partnerships to the platform and building a slate of content or a calendar of programming that is interesting to our audiences and advertisers, which is a mutual win-win. We are also doubling down and have made some marquee investments. We launched Twitter Lite as an offering that will make Twitter accessible to every Indian with lower data speeds. India continues to be a huge strategic part of our story.


Q] How has the restructuring exercise worked out in the organization?

On the revenue side, we had multiple sales channels and the feedback from clients and agencies led us to simplify the sales channels. On the content side, Twitter’s a platform where people come to see what’s happening and our strength lay in three key areas - news, entertainment and sport. We streamlined our partnerships and organization to be aligned to this. These alignments have worked really well and made us nimble as an organization.


Q] How have marketers and brands come forward to tap into Twitter’s offerings, like live video, in-stream video ads and live broadcast through Periscope, etc?

India is an incredibly strong market where we see the passion come through from consumers. Everything starts with the consumers. If you look at the conversation points, say around cricket, we had an amazing IPL season with around11.3 million tweets for the entire season. The India vs Pakistan game in the Champions Trophy saw a record-breaking number of tweets. Such passionate consumers who share their opinions on the platform, provide an opportunity for brands to come and engage in the most innovative way. Brands and advertisers in India are interested in partnering around video and also around innovation. If I were to give you an example, for the Champions Trophy we had a great partnership with Nissan - one of the first sponsors to associate on Twitter - to extend the conversation association they have via the sponsorship to owning the share of voice and conversation on Twitter. Another example of innovation has been the use of Direct Messaging (DM). How do you give brands the ability to go from the public mode of communication to a direct messaging environment? This was the first association we had with Motorola in India, connecting with audiences by doing unique things on DM first. We see the advertisers’ penchant to be highly innovative and they want to own the market to connect with consumers on Twitter first.


Q] Do you see India as an innovation hub, and a market for pilot products?

Yes, we definitely have incredibly innovative advertisers. In 2017, there have been big moments where we brought amazing video content live. Be it the Filmfare Awards, the Union Budget or cricket, we’ve had advertisers wanting to be creative to elevate their brand and we associate with these big moments with premium content on the platform.


Twitter’s Hashtag campaign, meant to showcase the platform’s ability to provide a forum for political debate, won the Grand Prix in Outdoor at the Cannes Lions festival this year. The ads, created by Twitter San Francisco, simply use visual hashtags along with images of political figures. A visibly excited Maya Hari says, “We are super proud to have won the Grand Prix, and it was a big moment for Twitter.  We also launched our brand campaign in a couple of markets globally, like US and Japan, while at Cannes. So, that was another big moment.”  

Hari adds that last year, Twitter launched its Outdoor campaign in many cities in the US. “The idea was to do two things: one, to reclaim and own the importance of the hashtag which is something that Twitter had brought to the world. It’s iconic and it’s at the heart of all of our Outdoor activations. The second thing was to reinforce the fact that amazing conversations are happening on the platform every day. And Twitter is the best place to see all sides of a story in one go,” she explains.

­­ Q] What is the revenue agenda for India and SE Asia?

For India and South East Asia, the growth agenda is threefold. First, to bring a whole host of live and highlights content to consumers. Consumers come to Twitter to have a conversation and when we add video, premium and live content to the mix, it enhances the volume of conversation and the engagement manifold. We have a slew of partnerships across the region that enables us to bring in live content. Recently, the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) paid a tribute to actor Shah Rukh Khan and we live-streamed the Q&A session of Khan with producer and director Brett Ratner, which had nearly 1,70,000 concurrent viewers during the live broadcast! The second growth pillar is monetizing content partnerships. We have entered into TV partnerships in Philippines and Australia, and in India, we have done partnerships during the Budget and also with the ICC.

In the first half of 2017, there have been more than 50 such premium content association opportunities for advertisers. That should give you a sense of the breadth of the slate that we are bringing to the table. The third growth pillar for us is to drive innovation and deepen our presence in Asia. Whether that’s through the Direct Messaging Services that we worked with Samsung in Australia or Motorola in India or Jollychic, a Chinese e-commerce service advertiser. We worked with these brands first to be able to leverage the Direct Messaging capabilities on Twitter and bring innovation on the back of that. We have had a partnership on the data licensing side which is another growth point. We have partnered with Discovery Networks in Asia, including India, and we had a big launch event to leverage Twitter data. Last but not the least we are constantly exploring new markets such as Thailand and Taiwan. We are exploring partnerships to test these new markets and deepen our presence there. We recently announced partnerships with Media Donuts in Thailand and Wavenet in Taiwan to grow our footprint and deepen our relationship with advertisers in these new markets.

Meanwhile, Australia remains a mature market, highly innovative and driven by video, live video particularly, and it is also a sports-driven market. We live-streamed the Melbourne Cup and the premium annual Thoroughbred Horse Race event on Twitter.


Q] What’s the outlook for Twitter’s advertising revenue in India? What sectors according to you will drive ad growth here?

We don’t break down the advertising revenue by country, but from a revenue perspective, India is among the fastest growing markets and we are very excited about our presence here. I can give you a sense of the sectors and campaigns that will show you the size and scale of what we are doing. There are four sectors that we are doubling down in a big way in India. The first is the Government, and we are working very closely with many different ministries in the Government. Politicians are coming on to the Twitter platform to share and set agendas and digital diplomacy is the ‘in thing’ nowadays. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a big champion of Twitter.  You also see this across the world with the French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and many more. It’s great to see Modi using the platform. On the revenue side, the big focus for us is to help the Government on its agendas like Startup India or drive more investments into India. The second focus sector is Automotive. The auto manufacturers in India are very innovative and are keen to tap into the pulse of audiences using Twitter. The third focus has been mobile and tech as a vertical. India is an amazing market with a number of players and Twitter is the platform of choice to connect with pop culture trends. The fourth vertical would be consumer packaged goods, where the likes of Nestle have worked very closely with us on innovative activations.


Q] By when would you expect to be profitable?

We did outline in our earnings announcements that one of our big strategies is to focus on gap profitability and our alignment and focus even on the product side is tied to this. I don’t necessarily have a specific time-frame for you, but I can tell you that it is a focus internally and we as leaders are actively thinking about how we drive that.


Q] What are some of the new things that we can expect from Twitter? 

Our big investments are in the spaces of live and video and premium content, no surprise, that’s our strategy globally and in Asia too. We announced a slew of big unique content partnerships at the New York Digital New Fronts. Some of these partnerships are exclusive to Twitter and this is the direction of new things to come as well. A number of those partnerships are global in nature. For example, you might think about the MTV Music Awards, or Bloomberg creating a breaking news programme just for Twitter which will not be aired on TV. You will see more of such unique partnerships even in APAC.


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