CEOs should all be on Twitter, says the social network’s managing director

Parminder Singh, Managing Director - SEA, India, MENA, left, Michael Lawrence, CEO of Asia House and Tunde Olanrewaju, Principal at McKinsey & Company

Parminder Singh, Managing Director of Twitter (SEA, India, MENA), left, Michael Lawrence, CEO of Asia House, centre and Tunde Olanrewaju, Principal at McKinsey & Company, right

CEOs should all be on Twitter, says the social network’s managing director

27/01/15

By Naomi Canton

‘Listen to conversations before you tweet,’ ‘don’t use too many hashtags’ and ‘CEOs should all be on Twitter’ – these were among the nuggets of 140 character or less snippets of advice shared by Parminder Singh, Managing Director of Twitter SEA, India, MENA, when he visited Asia House this week.

Singh was in London to deliver a private roundtable briefing on digital and social media in Asia, alongside Tunde Olanrewaju, a Principal at McKinsey & Company, as well as to be a keynote speaker at our signature conference, Asia’s Digital Transformation, which takes place on 28 January.

“I think the language of leadership is changing. Leadership is no longer about muscles – it’s about being connected and listening to customers. It’s important to listen to what people think about your organisation,” he said, in an exclusive interview with Asia House Web Editor Naomi Canton following the 27 January roundtable briefing.

“CEOs should all be on this medium,” he explained. “They can use it as a listening and discovery device if nothing else.”

Singh said hashtags were the “social currency” of Twitter used to spread tweets beyond their normal reach. “If you have something worth hashtagging, do it, but don’t overdo it. Do it only when it’s really important or it’s a topic that people are searching for – it’s basically a search device. You might want to start your own hashtag and start your own conversation but don’t overuse hashtags,” he said, sipping mineral water on a leather chair inside Asia House chairman Sir John Boyd’s office.

The most reteweeted tweet in the world to date is the Ellen DeGeneres mass-selfie taken at the Oscars 2014 of a bunch of top Hollywood stars.

So how does one make sure a tweet is retweeted? “It all depends on what you want to get out of Twitter,” Singh said, clearly used to fielding such questions. “Brands need to establish what their objective is. Is it engagement? Or acquiring new customers? You  should imagine your brand as a human. What kind of human would it be? Would it be a friend? Your mother?  Your father? You should try to find a voice that sounds like a human and be true to that and humanise your brand,” he said, explaining that brands that sounded like well-crafted PR machines on Twitter had far less engagement than those with spontaneity that sounded like real human beings.

“Before brands even think about tweeting I think it’s important for brands to listen. It’s a bit like going to a party. Before you start talking you should figure out who is there that is meaningful to you and the tones and themes. At a party there will be different tables. You would not just start speaking – you want to find out which table is most interesting and then discover what they are talking about and then express so the order should be listen, discover, express. If you just want to listen and discover then that is ok too,” he said, smiling.

He pointed out that Twitter was a powerful medium, not least because it gives the deepest insight into the human psyche ever created. For that reason, businesses can benefit from monitoring Twitter to see what is being talked about, including what is being said about their business. “Don’t feel in a rush to tweet – you can just use it as a listening device. Once you have understood the conversation then tweeting happens naturally,” he added.

He said how often an organisation should tweet was very subjective. “If something is significant then you should tweet it out. If you have a rapidly changing product portfolio then you are going to want to tweet out more. If you are an organisation that has a high level of customer engagement then you might want to tweet out more.  It depends on the nature of your product and what you want to say.”

India-born Singh, who is now based in Twitter’s regional head office in Singapore, then spoke about how the social media network, which floated on the New York Stock Exchange in November 2013 and currently employs 3,600 people world-wide, actually makes money.

He said Twitter’s main revenue sources were adverts – which in Twitter’s case – were promoted tweets, promoted trending topics and promoting twitter accounts.

“Promoted tweets can be targeted to appear in specific people’s newsfeeds, that might be because the person seeing them are tweeting about a certain criteria, following a certain Twitter handle, or using certain words. It may be that a brand wants to target people with specific interests like they ‘like the outdoors.’  Promoted accounts appear in the section of suggested accounts to follow on your Twitter profile. Anyone can pay to promote a trending topic as well,” he explained.

“It’s very important that whatever brands do is consistent with what Twitter users want on Twitter. Training programmes help brands to use Twitter in a meaningful way that make it a good experience for the user as well,” he said.

Singh, who is from Delhi and previously worked for Google, Apple and IBM, said Twitter in India had introduced a number of initiatives recently to get brands and agencies more involved. Agencies can participate in the training programmes online at their own pace. “There are lots of initiatives we have introduced to let them understand the power of this medium. We also want to ensure that brands are able to come up with content that is meaningful and planned and that helps them engage with their customers,” he said.

The ‘Twitter Lab’ helps brands in India look at their brand’s objectives and create content to match those. Another programme ‘Win at Content’ is targeted at agencies that are involved in content development to help them understand how to create a content map.

“We have recently hired an India sales head and that’s another step towards showing our commitment to the market, working with brands and agencies in how to understand how to reach out to consumers,” he added.

Twitter does not reveal its statistics and Singh would not be drawn on that either. Twitter will be releasing its financial results for the fourth quarter and fiscal year 2014 on February 5, 2015. Part of the announcement and conference will, not surprisingly, take place on Twitter.

But according to eMarketer, emerging markets are driving Twitter usage worldwide. More than 40 per cent of Twitter users worldwide will be in the Asia Pacific by 2018, eMarketer said in its first ever forecast of Twitter users. It predicts there are significant opportunities for Twitter to increase its user base in Asia.  In the article titled Emerging Markets Drive Twitter User Growth Worldwide, it said the number of Twitter users in the Asia Pacific have already taken over from those in North America and Europe. The article also predicted there would be 400 million Twitter users worldwide by 2018 and that India and Indonesia would experience the fastest growth in the period up to 2018.

According to Twitter’s official statistics, there are currently 284 million Twitter users sending 500 million tweets per day, 80 per cent of whom tweet from their mobile. Seventy seven per cent of accounts are outside of the US and the social media network supports more than 35 languages.

“We believe that Twitter is  a live public medium  and a public conversation that is really important  and we believe that everyone on this planet should be able to use Twitter,” Singh said, adding it cut across social and economic classes.

Similar to Facebook, Twitter emerged seemingly out of nowhere in San Francisco 2006 and now according to global traffic ranking website Alexa, it is one of the 10-most visited sites in the world.

Interestingly, as opposed to destroying the cultural fabric of different countries, Twitter is interwoven into them and companies could exploit this to demonstrate they are part of the markets they are in, he said. An example is Coca-Cola which did a very successful Ramadan campaign in Indonesia allowing people in Jakarta to wish a ‘Happy Ramadan’ to their friends and relatives often based elsewhere – via the Coca-Cola Indonesia Twitter account.

“This was a great demonstration of how a Western company becomes part of a country’s cultural experience,” Singh said.

On 20 January this year Twitter purchased Indian mobile marketing start-up ZipDial. The technology company enables people in India to give a missed call to a brand or organisation that interests them to then receive information from that company. Missed calls are widely used in India instead of voicemail to let someone know you tried to call them. “This is all connected to the low data usage on smartphones in India compared to elsewhere, so this is about data versus non data on smartphones. There are a lot of ways we at Twitter could think about integrating with ZipDial,” he said.

The BJP-led NDA Indian Government is actively using Twitter and other social media to put their message, agenda and policies forward. “They are doing it in a very interesting way as is ‘Make in India’ (a major new national program designed to transform India into a global manufacturing hub),” he said.

“The Indian Government understands that social media can be a medium to connect with the community. The Twitter handles of Indian ministers provide insights into who they are  – for example, Indian prime minister Narendra Modis’s Twitter account portrays him not just as the PM but as a human being. Many other prime ministers are doing the same,” he said.

Lee Hsien Loong, the Singapore prime minister is doing Twitter very well, he said. The UAE’s HH Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, also does Twitter very  well, he added.

So the multimillion dollar question: what does Singh think of the Asia House Twitter account?

“I did not look at it deeply enough to get a comment. I noticed I was mentioned in some tweets about this event. I will get back to you!” he said.

Parminder Singh gave the interview following a private briefing he gave to corporate members, alongside Tunde Olanrewaju, a Principal in McKinsey’s London office, who also leads the UK Business Technology Practice.

Topics discussed at the briefing included how Twitter is used in Asia, the top countries using Twitter in Asia, Twitter’s future plans in the region, as well as how banks and financial instiutions view social media.

Companies represented at the roundtable briefing included PwC, EY, PA Consulting, Prudential, McKinsey & Company and Eversheds.

naomi.canton@asiahouse.co.uk

Asia House is holding a signature conference on Wednesday 28 January, titled Asia’s Digital Transformation, in partnership with McKinsey, which will look at the impact of digitisation in the region. For more information on that click here.

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