Q&A: Twitter's Shailesh Rao on educating the market

With digital media fast becoming an integral part of communication in today’s world, it comes as no surprise to see marketers and advertisers scrambling to stay with the times. As agencies transition from direct marketing to programmatic technology to maximise their marketing capabilities, one resounding question remains unanswered: why are companies still so baffled by social media?

In an effort to discover the reasons behind marketers’ inability to maximise social media and to learn more about the medium’s almost limitless potential for advertising, Marketing spoke to Shailesh Rao, vice president for Asia Pacific, Latin America and Emerging Markets.

Marketing: Do you still feel there’s a lot of education that needs to be done as to how to use the medium?

Rao: I’ll say two things: One is we see so much pent-up demand in this region that is translated to significant revenue and revenue growth. I’ll give you an interesting fact – in Australia, 23 out of the 25 biggest advertisers are active advertisers on the platform. 25% of those are always on, which means they’re consistently using Twitter across the year in all of their campaigns.

That being said, education continues to be a primary goal, because like any new technology – I’d include Google and Facebook in that, the digital sector is barely a decade old – we’re all new. I think collectively our job is to educate the advertising community about the value and the importance and the role of digital in the overall media mix. We have a role to play in that, and we do a lot of education.

For example, it could be in the form of the Take Flight programme, which is a programme we developed for the education of agencies. We also educate through boot camps, for which we have an internal creative team called Brand Strategy. They conduct half-day and all day clinical workshop sessions with the biggest brands in the world to educate them not only on what Twitter is, but to actually ask them to roll up their sleeves and design campaigns for their brands where we can then consult and advise them how to get the most out of it. We also are conducting a coursework in partnership with Insead here in Singapore called Twitter for Leaders where we invite C-level CEOs to come and learn about Twitter so they can personally use it.

We wouldn’t be growing our revenue as fast as we are if we didn’t see great adoption. And the most important thing that educates the market, almost sells itself, is when you have a platform that works. And for multiple years running now globally, we are very excited to say that the average engagement rate on a Twitter promotion campaign worldwide is 3-4%. Let me put that in perspective: that is 30-40 times better than traditional digital display click through rates. And to some extent, that creates an environment in which brands and agencies want to learn more, because they’re hearing from the case studies of the advertisers we work with.

Marketing: And apart from engagement rates which other metrics do you use to measure success?

Rao: It’s less about metrics and more about understanding what kind of value clients want. Because of our early success here as a company in Asia Pacific, we've earned a seat at the table in conversations about marketing strategy on an end to end basis across the marketing funnel, whether it’s launching a new product to the world and doing a lot of brand development work or at the other end of the funnel, driving cross-sell/up-sell or customer acquisition from a performance marketing standpoint. So depending upon the marketing objective of the client, we will construct a set of analytics and research that shows them the value created. So in a brand campaign we do brand surveys, which show them, “What is the uplift in brand recall? What is the uplift in propensity to spend?” and so on.

Marketing: Tell us more about these surveys, how are they executed?

Rao: We issue the surveys on Twitter itself, so the interesting thing is you can run a survey on Twitter inside a tweet as the campaign is running in real time. We’re able to take those survey results, feed it back to the client, and make improvements to the campaign while it’s still running.

We also use performance marketing capabilities through which we’re able to show people actual conversion data. There are also other interesting metrics that are unique to Twitter that we’re able to share with clients. For example, in Australia we did some work with Optus, a large telecom carrier in the nation that was launching Netflix in partnership with Netflix in Australia. They were able to take a huge celebrity who’s active on Twitter, and leverage him as a brand ambassador through the use of video inside a tweet to promote the arrival of this on-demand video service in Australia.

What we were able to show them at the end of that campaign is that we delivered a ratio of four earned media impressions for every one paid. Because of the power of propagation through mechanisms like retweet, every paid impression spawned four free ones. We use metrics like that that are unique to Twitter because of that social propagation capability to talk about the total value we can deliver.

Marketing: So your strategy with the big brands, top advertisers in every market is pretty clear. Is there an equal amount of focus on the smaller and medium advertisers?

Rao: Absolutely. We believe that Twitter is a platform that should be used by every user and business in the world. Therefore, we have a very active focus on making the platform available to small businesses as well, which is why performance marketing capabilities become really critical.

In fact, one of the things we’ve done to make it even easier for small businesses to use Twitter is that now they can run their campaigns based on their objective. A company can bid to run its campaign on Twitter because it’s looking for leads, or it’s looking to drive mobile app installs. It’s not just buying engagements, which has historically been something associated with big brands. This ability to bid and run your campaign based on marketing objective is a way to appeal to small businesses.

We’ve also launched our small business self-serve offering in multiple countries around the world and here in Asia as well. I think we launched the small business offering here in Asia in eight new markets, five in the last two quarters. It’s a very active area of focus, so today small businesses can advertise on Twitter in Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and New Zealand.