A lot has been happening at Twitter. If in November 2021, it was news of India-born CEO Parag Agrawal taking up the reins of the micro-blogging site that made waves, of late it is Tesla boss Elon Musk’s offer to buy Twitter at $44 billion that hit the headlines, of course followed by his rider that Twitter has to show spam accounts less than 5% for the deal to move forward. India is Twitter’s third largest market going by the number of users (23.6 million as of January 2022), and could be a strategic growth engine for the company. On the flip side, it has had run-ins with the Government of India over issues related to compliance with the new IT rules, content removal and freedom of expression. In this backdrop, Twitter India’s #WhatsHappening2022 event in March highlighted its efforts at ramping up innovations, products and content, ensuring brand safety and promoting conversations around topics that Indians love – sports and entertainment.
Here are excerpts from a conversation with Rishabh Sharma, Head of Twitter Next, India - part of a global team that partners with marketers, agencies and creative labs to build solutions for brands - on the company’s strategy and direction of efforts:
Tell us about Twitter’s newest efforts to empower creators and businesses in India through product and policy initiatives. What are some of the highlights of these efforts?
We have been experimenting and innovating on various fronts to help creators and brands bring out their creative best and engage with their audiences a lot more meaningfully on Twitter. Learning from the growing interest and popularity of voice as a medium, we started testing formats like voice Tweets, voice DMs, later rolling out Twitter Spaces - our live audio feature that allows creators to connect with their followers or audiences in a way that is nuanced, intimate and personal - something only the human voice can enable. As a way for creators to get rewarded for their content, we introduced Tips, a tipping feature that lets people support their favourite accounts monetarily. To make this easier for our Indian audiences, we’ve onboarded Razorpay and Paytm as payment gateways for Tips. Last year, we started testing Communities as a new way for people to find and connect with others who want to talk about the same things, giving creators another way to engage with their audiences. As we continue to test and build for creators, businesses, and everyday people, we’ve created one central experience with ‘Twitter for Professionals’ for everyone to showcase and highlight their content, products, and services directly on Twitter for free. With identity tools such as Professional Accounts and Professional Profiles, professionals on Twitter can customise, organise, and create a defined presence on the service that sets them apart from non-professional audiences.
On the businesses and brands front, we’re making steady progress with our ad product suite. In addition to improving and simplifying products across existing formats, we’ve also been introducing new upgrades, especially to our Performance ad offerings. In early 2021, we had also introduced Conversation Settings for Ads to give brands greater control over the conversations they start and how they engage with audiences. Brands and advertisers can now apply ‘Conversation Settings’ when they compose tweets directly through Tweet Composer or through our ads API. With Twitter Marketing Partners, we give our customers access to a select group of world-class technology companies that enhance the Twitter ads experience so advertisers can find the most valuable audiences, craft more effective campaigns, elevate their creative, and much more. In terms of policies, we’re focused on ensuring that everyone who comes to Twitter – audiences, creators, partners, and brands – has absolute control over a safe, healthy Twitter experience.
What is the latest in ad formats on Twitter? Can you talk of #OneTwitter and give us examples of a few big brand launches on the platform and how they have fared?
We’ve simplified our advertising product suite to make it clearer and easier to understand – bringing it down from 22+ individual ad formats to just five advertising categories with a corresponding suite of features that can be applied across them. At Twitter Next, we help brands combine their purposes with the right creative strategy to leverage this highly customisable gamut of tools and formats. Brands can choose from a range of products -Branded Notifications to acquire/gather an audience for live events by sending personalised reminders to those who opt-in. Brands often couple this with a Twitter take-over via the Promoted Trend Spotlight which places the brand’s message/event at the premium real estate of Twitter’s Explore tab - promising optimised visibility and impact. Then we have engagement formats like Twitter polls, live streaming, conversation cards, etc. We’ve also been making improvements to our performance products to deliver higher conversion and measurable results, and our focus has been on driving app discovery, driving action to websites, etc. Website cards that use the impact of image/video + links and carousel ads have been our top performing formats for driving website traffic. We’re also working on Site Visit Optimisation to help advertisers find and serve ads to audiences that are most likely to visit their websites by tracking audience actions and attributing them to the advertisers’ Twitter campaigns. The emoji engine - which lets brands reward audience for tweeting with the campaign hashtag and an emoji; gamified solutions like Netflix's Money Heist Escape Room, #MinnalMuraliOnNetflix and Amazon Prime Video’s #TheWheelOfTime that serve immersive experiences; quizzes like Spotify’s Dil Filmy quiz, Samsung India’s quiz especially for BTS fans have also been engaging audiences successfully. When working with brands and agencies, our collaboration goes beyond just creating an ad. We’ve aligned our strengths of media, creative, strategy, tech & Application Programming Interface (API), builders, data & research partners – all into #OneTwitter – a bouquet of services across all those domains. With this, we want to continue to provide 360-degree solutions to all our brand and agency partners.
What are some of the best insights for innovation picked up from live conversations in the India market?
Twitter’s audience is its superpower, and when working with brands, the public conversation is our holy grail that guides how we think, strategise, create, and execute. The Twitter Trends - India Report from 2021 revealed six key themes in conversation – Wellbeing, Creator Culture, Everyday Wonder, One Planet, Tech Life and My Identity – indicating a clear shift towards consciousness, individuality, and personalisation. People in India are having conversations in languages beyond English and Hindi, and are consuming vernacular content that is relatable. Cultural relevance is a key driver of brand success. Listening to what audiences are talking about can really provide the launchpad for a successful brand campaign. For instance, between June 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021, we saw over 14 million tweets around online shopping. The conversation also revealed that shoppers anticipate sales events, and keep filling their online carts even before the sale has begun. We helped Flipkart leverage this insight to deliver a successful #BigBillionMuqabla campaign where the brand invited shoppers to scroll through an interactive Twitter Moment, pick their favourite products, and then announced the most popular product of the day. More than anything, there’s an increased search among audiences for brands that are driven by a cause or purpose.
What’s happening at Twitter Next? Going forward, what are the overall aspirations for India?
At Twitter Next, public, inclusive and diverse conversations inspire creativity and innovation, and guide our work with brands. We’ve been working with diverse brands across sectors to leverage the many interests and conversations of our audiences in India – including automotives like Morris Garages, Hyundai; e-commerce brands like Flipkart, Amazon India, Myntra; Disney+ Hotstar, Netflix, Spotify from the media & entertainment category, State Bank of India, the Association of Mutual Funds from the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector; technology brands like Google, Microsoft India, CRED, among several others. We’ve made steady progress over the last year, and are actively partnering with brands across newer categories like fintech, edtech, as well. We are also building upon our strength in creative experimentation, expanding our Twitter Next Lab footprint to develop solutions with our API partners, and our focus is to grow our upstream partnership with both global and emerging brands in the country.
WORKING WITH SMALL & MEDIUM BUSINESSES
“Small and medium businesses (SMBs) are focused on return on investment and see value in ad campaigns on Twitter,” says a Twitter spokesperson. “Recently, Twitter supported Inox multiplexes to connect with Olympic fans in order to showcase their sponsorship. The service worked with the Inox team to craft a targeting and product strategy featuring a video, resulting in over 2 million views,” he adds. “As SMBs often have lean teams, Twitter’s dedicated sales team for India supports a wide range of SMBs with everything from recommendations on campaign strategy, to operational support and optimisation. Also, Twitter leads the way for conversations in the gaming, crypto and ed-tech space.”
THE India-only cricket tab
According to a Twitter spokesperson, “Around 75% of people on Twitter in India identify as cricket fans and #CricketTwitter is one of the biggest, most lively conversations on it. Therefore, Twitter tested a ‘Cricket tab’ - a single landing point that serves as a channel of discovery for what’s happening in cricket along with relevant Twitter-first content, where fans will have access to dedicated event pages, live scorecards, interactive team widgets as well as premium video content from publisher partners.”