Twitter: the call of LatAm

By John Paul Rathbone and Jude Webber

It took three years, two months and one day for the billionth tweet to be fired off after Twitter began operations in 2009. Now 400m tweets are sent every day, and the figure is rising. But how to monetise that growth? Step forward Latin America, the first big region in the world targeted by Twitter when it decided to roll out its advertising platform last year.

While Twitter had already launched its advertising platforms in individual overseas markets like the UK and Japan, LatAm was the company’s first regional initiative.

At first glance this might seem a strange choice given the region’s relatively low internet penetration rate. But “Latins are very social,” Peter Greenberger, Twitter’s director of sales, told beyondbrics.

For evidence of that virtual sociability, one only has to look at Brazil – which has the second largest Facebook community in the world, after the US. Indeed, the average amount of time users spend on social media is very high in Latin America – almost twice the global average, at 10 hours a month (see chart below). That makes it a potentially hot market for Twitter.

Latin America accounts for 5 of the most engaged social media markets in the world

Like most social media, Twitter has turned its back on a subscription-based business model. Instead, it relies on gently sliding advertisers into the tweet path of 140-character prestidigitators. Advertisers can buy “promoted tweets” or “promoted accounts” – which appear at the top of a user’s newsfeed; or they can buy “promoted trending topics”. The former are sold by auction; the latter for a fixed price. In Argentina, for example, its costs US$8,000 for a business to be linked to that day’s hottest trending topic. Consumer companies, such as Coca-Cola or Samsung, are big users, says Greenberger, which makes sense given the expansion of Latin America’s middle class over the past decade and concomitant rise of new consumer markets.

Moreover, Latin America has two other advantages. Internet penetration may be low but mobile phone penetration is high, and “twitter is perfectly suited to mobile,” says Greenberger. It also has in abundance two of the most tweeted about subjects “sport – especially football – and politics.” Indeed, it is a pending congressional election in Argentina in October, and Chile’s presidential election in November, that brought Greenberger, a former Bill Clinton and Al Gore campaigner, down to the region from Washington DC to promote the political merits of tweeting. “It allows unfiltered communication,” he says. “We are talking to all the political parties.”

Some will need no convincing. In Colombia, former president Álvaro Uribe (@AlvaroUribeVel), with 2.3m followers, has turned himself into a one man media channel, gracias a Twitter. The late Hugo Chávez (@chavezcandanga) was another famous tweeter — as is Cristina Fernández (@CFKArgentina), Argentina’s populist president, with 2m followers versus David Cameron (@David_Cameron), the British prime minister, with just 337,000.

Other politicians may still need convincing, though. Dilma Rousseff (@dilmabr), the Brazilian president, last sent a tweet in December and, as it happens, her popularity has taken a tumble recently. Not that tweeting is necessary for political success. Although Michelle Bachelet is the favourite to win Chile’s presidential election in November, her tweeting campaign (@ComandoMichelle) barely has 14,000 followers.

Related reading:
The BBQ activists, FT
Brazil: Facebook’s #2 fan, beyondbrics
Twitter’s Brazilian hangover, beyondbrics
Facebook: bigger and bigger in LatAm, beyondbrics
EMs following Brazil into Twitter, beyondbrics