A leading airline company recently contacted Twitter to learn how it could use the social networking site to market its brand. The airline, which was largely inactive on Twitter, was reluctant to join because of the sensitive nature of customer service in the business. Its concerns were legitimate given the backlash Malaysia Airlines received following the disappearance of its Beijing-bound aircraft.
Twitter decided to work with the company to create an emergency framework and develop strategies for various scenarios. “These are not marketing conversations, but it’s a discussion we need to have if we want to have brands on this platform,” says Parminder Singh, Twitter’s newly recruited managing director for India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. “Today this airline is active on Twitter because we were willing to get into a holistic discussion.”
Creating a framework for customers beyond just marketing is the crux of Twitter’s three-pronged approach in Asia: new hires, great user experience and intense conversations with brands about real-time marketing.
Singh, affectionately known as Parry, has been at Twitter for five months and is in the process of building its business in the above-mentioned regions. He moved from Google where he was managing director for Google’s display business in Asia-Pacific. Singh says Google and Twitter are similar in many ways. Both companies have a mission that is larger than their business objective. Still, Twitter is unique in that users shape its products. “What we’re doing is creating a platform for our users, but the experience is created by the user itself,” he says pointing out how companies use the social network for everything from customer service to platform for their spokespeople.
The other point of difference is the pace of work. Singh, a marathon runner, describes it as “tempo run” — a pace at which one runs comfortably hard. “You’re not really gasping for breath — but pushing yourself to the limit.” It has helped him cover the distance faster, while strengthening capacity.
Singh’s appointment was part of the company’s plan to increase foreign revenue streams. Twitter has doubled its international offices to 15 and is aggressively working to woo foreign marketers.
Twitter’s market entry strategy in any country is exhaustive. It involves setting up a partnership team that works on alliances with content owners in key verticals. For instance, in India, it’s sports and entertainment. This is to ensure Twitter has the right content in each country. Once users start engaging in conversations that are useful to brands, the firm invests in talent and resources. “Each country is in a different phase, but the basic approach remains the same.”
Singh sees great value in integrating television and Twitter. Intent on bringing this to Asia, Singh is in active discussions with several partners in the region, which would result in partnerships with TV networks and content owners. “I think it’s very important to have a dialogue with anyone who thinks it’s an interesting theme,” he says.
He does not divulge country-specific numbers, but says all of the regions he oversees are showing strong growth in usage and advertiser interest. The question they’re asking is not ‘Why should we advertise’, but ‘How should we advertise’, he says.
As such, a lot of Singh’s time is spent talking to advertisers to make sure they know how to use this medium. His ultimate goal is to put Twitter in front of advertisers across all major countries. He’s set himself an ambitious target: to meet as many customers as possible before launching a strategy for the company in the region. “I didn’t want to fall into the trap of being a know-it-all,” he says, noting that listening leads to insights. In the past three months, he has met more than 52 marketers in the countries he oversees.
There is a method there, too. Twitter takes brands through a four-stage process. As a first step, advertisers are encouraged to look at the medium in an episodic, planned manner. “It’s a great complementary medium — whether you advertise in print or television, add Twitter as a component and it’s sure to supercharge the campaign.”
The next stage is to encourage brands to move to a ‘planned, always-on’ stage, where they start becoming part of conversations relevant to their product. In Singapore for example, if you are a food brand, it is important to note that conversations around hunger peak every day at 2am and then at 8am. The third step is user response. People like to respond and talk to brands regularly. Some advertisers have now begun to use response as an endorsement of their brand. Finally, Singh urges brands to think of cultural moments around Twitter and to become a part of it.
He cites the example of the Winter Olympics, which had 40 million tweets around it. “If you are a brand for whom being associated with the Games is important, then you should become a part of the conversation. Ultimately, brands need to develop a muscle memory for Twitter.