Twitter's big plans for Brazil

The microblogging service is growing its workforce exponentially in its second-largest market to make the most out of commercial opportunities in real-time advertising, events, and TV.
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer on

Saying that Twitter is huge in Brazil is no exaggeration. As the second largest market for the company after the US, in number of accounts, with over 40 million users, the company shows no signs of slowing, and is heavily investing in operations to make the most out of this popularity.

The focus for the company in Brazil sits on three pillars: Events, real-time advertising, and TV. In order to properly exploit these three niches, the company is putting together its leadership team, and is hiring core skills such as branding, agency relations, and product marketing. Six people joined last week, there are still ten positions to be filled, and more jobs will be created this year.

The real ambition is to make the most out of the advertising world by selling products such as keyword targeting and initiatives around Vine, Twitter's new mobile video sharing platform.

Starting with the appointment of Guilherme Ribenboim as country manager for Brazil last November, the temporary São Paulo base of the microblogging site is doubling in size every weekend — a coincidence, according to Ribenboim, an economics graduate who dreamed of being a financial trader and ended up becoming one of the main internet personalities in the country, with years at the likes of Yahoo and Groupon in his CV.

Despite being in the sector for a long time, Ribenboim needed time to think when the invitation to join Twitter came about last year. "I was always a heavy user of Twitter as a tool to find out what is going on and interact with people, but I couldn't understand how it could make money," he told delegates at BR New Tech, a monthly meet-up of web entrepreneurs, last night in São Paulo.

"After a while, it dawned on me that all those questions around whether Twitter could be a profitable business were no longer relevant; the US press only talked about the amazing trajectory of the company and all the opportunities ahead. Then there was no question about [taking the job]," he added.

Focus on advertising

Ribenboim is young and has a friendly, relaxed attitude, but his growth strategy for Brazil is incisive: The real ambition is to make the most out of the advertising world by selling products such as keyword targeting and initiatives around Vine, Twitter's new mobile video sharing platform.

"We sell engagement and conversations. People use Twitter to share their opinion and get feedback, so there is an opportunity for advertisers to take part in meaningful conversations with their audience — and that's our main focus," the Twitter exec pointed out.

Guilherme Ribenboim, Twitter's country manager in Brazil, and Bedy Yang, the mastermind behind the BR New Tech entrepreneur group during last night 's debate in São Paulo.

As far as big contracts are concerned, Twitter is not doing badly at all in Brazil: Its client portfolio include B2B players such as Qualcomm, telecoms giant Vivo, Brazilian airline TAM, banking group Itaú, and Skol, the beer brand. Despite the fact that this approach to advertising is relatively new in Brazil, Ribenboim said that brands are much more mature when it comes to campaign activation on Twitter.

"There used to be a lot of questioning and fear from the brands' perspective, but today, that doesn't happen any more. They understand that they have to join that conversation about their products and services online, and we have done a lot of cool things with many of them in that respect," he added, citing a campaign done in partnership with Itaú bank. The hash tag #issomudaomundo ("that changes the world", in Portuguese) was used to capture ideas from the audience on things they could do that would have a positive impact on the world they live in.

But it is not all about the big brands. Ribenboim said that Twitter will also be heavily targeting the middle market: "Brazil has a lot of [online advertising] demand within the medium-sized bracket, which is something we didn't see a lot of until recently."

Striking partnerships

Another critical area of focus for Twitter in Brazil is around partnerships with companies that can use its application programming interface (API) to create value for third-parties, as well as developers.

"It is absolutely strategic to create and nurture relationships with developers, as allowing people to use our API and give it a service layer is a perfect way to multiply and scale up the possibilities of our platform," Ribenboim said.

In terms of growth through acquisitions, the Twitter executive did not discard the possibility of, in the future, buying Brazilian companies that could bolster its technology capabilities.

"As a tech company, we would normally look for companies that can add value in a technology sense, and we will have the opportunity to look at the Brazilian market [for possible acquisitions]," Ribenboim said.

The World Cup opportunity

As every key business leader, Ribenboim is talking to government leaders and other big corporates about how it can contribute to Brazil's overall success over the coming years with the World Cup and Olympic Games being staged in the country.

"The World Cup will be an exceptional opportunity to showcase Brazil and show all the great things we have, and Twitter will be an ideal platform to do that, as people will be talking about Brazil all over the world. We are talking to the government about these things," he said.

Using Twitter as a public service — very much along along the lines of what the company already did in Japan in case of earthquakes, and the US with hurricane Sandy — is also in the cards as the firm matures in Brazil.

Following the trends in Brazil

During the session with entrepreneurs last night, Ribenboim cited the second-screen trend as becoming standard in Brazil, and another massive opportunity for his company.

"Similar to the time when cinema moved on to having sound, we are living in a time when doing things like watching TV and tweeting will just become normal. It is certainly becoming the case here in Brazil," he said.

"And if I meet someone here who hasn't done that yet [watching TV and tweeting simultaneously], I absolutely recommend it, as the dynamic of the program totally changes: You find irony, humor, and a perspective that is entirely diverse to your own," he said.

Ribenboim also talked about the huge uptake of Twitter by Brazilian celebrities — footballer Kaká, for example, has 12 million followers, comedy TV program Pânico has a follower count of over 7 million, and recent Grammy Award winner Michel Teló is followed by 3 million users — and how that also helps the company in its advertising-related objectives.

"Brazilian celebrities have found Twitter to be an ideal tool to talk to their fans and become a media outlet themselves — which in turn increases the financial return they can get," Ribenboim said.

"It has to be done in a fun and genuine way though — if a celebrity tweets he or she are using toothpaste X in the morning, it doesn't work as well as when they show something from their lives that is integrated with the advertiser's strategy. Then it becomes something really cool — and valuable, too."

While Twitter experiences an upward climb in Brazil, other social tools, such as Google+, continue to evolve — possibly treading on Twitter's toes. But Ribenboim, in true Brazilian fashion, pointed out that there is room for everyone to play.

"I believe we are fortunate in the fact we are a different platform, and people use it in a unique way. And as long as we remain unique, we will remain successful."

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