Rishi Jaitly is the India Market Director at Twitter, leading the company's efforts in India. He has earlier served as the head of public-private partnerships for Google in India, as well as Chief of Staff to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. He is also Co-Founder and Chairman of Michigan Corps. A graduate of Princeton University, Jaitly is a former member of Princeton's Board of Trustees and currently serves as a member of the Princeton University Technology Advisory Council.
Over the past few years, Twitter has emerged as one of the focal points of any brand’s social media strategy. Beyond the marketing world, the microblogging platform has become of the most used and one of the most powerful tools of expression and influence globally. Though, the India story might still be nascent, the company has ambitious plans for growth in the coming years. In conversation with exchange4media’s AbhinnShreshtha, Jaitly touches on a number of topics, including the company’s India plans, the intersection of Twitter with other media and the power of social platforms for the common man.
Where does India feature in Twitter’s plans?
First and foremost, what the company believes is that India is one of the top 10 markets for Twitter. It is one of the fastest growing markets. There is a clear sense between the top management that India is a priority. The headline for us is growth. Something invented as a SMS status update service eight years ago, we now have a product that can add value to every single Indian. What we have been doing here for the last two years and will continue to do is fuel growth—reach every single Indian with a mobile phone.
So how do you fuel this growth?
We are doing three things to reach every Indian. One of these is partnering aggressively and immersing ourselves in the media business. When I say media I mean everyone in the audience-oriented business in the country, whether they are online publications, big broadcasters, public figures, news organisations, etc.
Twitter is now the second screen for Indian television. No matter what channels you are watching, the relevance of Twitter is unmistakable. Channels are using Twitter to interact with the audience in real time, whether it is tweeting best wishes to a celebrity or voting for your favourite contestant on a reality show. As part of our media strategy, TV is really big. We are also working with news broadcasters and getting calls from political parties.
The second theme is mobile distribution of Twitter, which basically means making Twitter accessible wherever Indians are connecting with content. For instance, we made a deal with Airtel DTH, where you can see tweets from celebrities, cricketers, etc. on your TV screen. We have also worked on a feature where you can make a missed call to a number and actually follow a Twitter account via free SMSs on your phone.
Finally, we have begun some work with brands who are interested in involving themselves in conversations. If you consider Twitter as a town square where people are talking about things like music, comedy, elections, phones, restaurants and all sort of things, brands want to be a part of all these things. They want to be part of conversations which are adjacent to their interest areas. The core of our work with brands has been around helping them personify and use Twitter on a first-person basis.
Since you have been approached by political parties, can you tell us whether you are working with any of them?
They (political parties) want to know how they can extract value from this platform. We have been approached by political parties, just like we have been approached by all broadcasters and news organisations. We have been helping them understand basic best practices and how to leverage Twitter.
Recently Twitter tied up with MTV Rock The Vote to spread awareness about the importance of voting in India. What is the role that social platforms play in creating a more aware citizen?
If you look at the history of Twitter in India, conversations on social issues such as elections are very high powered and intensive. It was difficult to be on Twitter at the end of 2012 and not hear the roar of the crowd. There has been a 600 per cent increase in conversations around politics in the last year, while mentions of political parties and leaders have increased nearly ten times. What we are seeing is that news organisations are seeing value in involving the audience in the storytelling.
You spoke about the importance of media earlier. Recently, Twitter seems to be positioning itself as the de facto platform for the television ecosystem, right from advertisers to broadcasters and content creators. Is this a niche that Twitter is targeting going forward?
The intersection of Twitter and TV is genuine and also fortuitous. Television, in some ways, is a set of scheduled events. There are many attributes which are intrinsic to Twitter and one of these is live, public conversations. The DNA of TV in some ways is about the same. This intersection is quite natural. What we have been doing is responding to demand in the marketplace around how to extract value from this interaction. It is happening quite organically.
In the UK, there was a study that suggested that 40 per cent of the evening traffic in UK is on TV, 95 per cent of the world’s online public discussion happens on Twitter. 60 per cent of our users are active on Twitter while watching television. Facts and experience tell us that the intersection is real. When you look at the conversations in India, it often reflects to what we see on TV. Television is a priority because it is driven by market demand.
Traditionally, social media platforms have struggled to monetise, but we are now seeing a more aggressive push towards creating a revenue-focused model and showing value to advertisers. Is this a general trend in the social ecosystem?
From a monetisation perspective, I will go back and say that our number one focus area is growth, working with media companies and the mobile ecosystem. We have media companies using Twitter, we have the mobile ecosystem, which includes,entrepreneurs, DTH service providers, etc. using Twitter to increase stickiness value and earn data revenues. Of course, we are working with brands. Our promoted products have been available in India for four quarters now. But I will say again, when we speak internally about what is important in India, it is growth. Of course, we have products, but the number one priority is growth.
As part of your three focus areas, you mentioned about talking with brands on how they could be included in conversations. How do you toe the line between doing that and remaining non-intrusive?
What’s exciting about our platform is that users come to Twitter for three things—to discover new things, to connect with brands and to converse and express. What that leads to is an opportunity for native advertising to flourish. You have publishers posting quite aggressively and creatively on our platform and users flocking to Twitter just for that. We are seeing very good engagement rates with our ad units. Globally, we many times see a 3 per cent engagement with our ad units, which is quite good. More generally, as a product what we are trying to do is making a better product. We are working towards making it simpler for new users as well as returning users. We are also trying to make it more visual by making pictures and videos more visible. In three months we have seen 25 per cent engagement with media-rich content. We are also concentrating on private messaging. In the town square, sometimes you shout, sometimes you broadcast, but sometimes you want to whisper. We are thinking about private messaging and how it fits into the context of the town square.
Twitter might probably be the only social media platform that has a sizable number of users accessing it from third-party applications. Does this bother you?
That may have been true in the past but now a vast majority of connections on Twitter actually happen through Twitter-owned and operated clients. This is a fact.