SVG Sit-Down: Twitter’s Maurizio Barbieri on the Company’s Southeast Asia Strategy

The challenge is to accommodate dozens of languages, cultures, and fanbases

With more and more sports social-media outlets thinking globally, the challenge becomes how to manage a brand amidst dozens of languages, cultures, and different fanbases. Maurizio Barbieri, head of sports partnerships, Southeast Asia, Twitter, is as well-versed as anyone in what it takes to build a social-media presence in an area increasingly important to sports federations, leagues, and teams. He sat down with SVG’s Ken Kerschbaumer at Sportel in Monaco late last month to discuss the Southeast Asia market and how to better meet the needs of fans.

Twitter’s Maurizio Barbieri: “In Southeast Asia, we have content that is driving conversation, which is the only thing that matters on Twitter.”

This is obviously not just a Southeast Asian show, so give me a sense of why you are here and what this show means to you and Twitter?
Well, Sportel is a global show, so everyone is coming from all over the world. We are meeting with rightsholders and publishers who are looking to enter Asia and see how to address 2020 in the best way possible. Personally, our business is doing well from a content perspective, and also, in Southeast Asia, we have content that is driving conversation, which is the only thing that matters on Twitter. People want to know what is happening, and the more local content we have the better it is, and the more content we have the higher the chances are that we can make publishers happy with monetization.

What do you tell people who are from outside Southeast Asia but want to know how to use Twitter to reach people within Southeast Asia? Are there any differences in what the Southeast Asian Twitter user wants out of their experience vs. what someone from North America might want?
The NBA, for example, is a massive driver of conversation in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, it is a pure sports play as people are crazy about basketball and they are going to be super engaged. But, in Thailand, the NBA might be less popular than football, but it is a massive driver of lifestyle conversation about the latest in apparel. So we do have different approaches and do different things, depending on the market. And then there is time, so an NBA game in the U.S. is being played at 9:30 in the morning in Manila, where people are at work. A good way for local audiences might not be to watch the game live as they have to work. But, with Twitter, you can give them the highlights and what is happening almost in real time.

Also, we are going to start streaming one NBA game live for opening week on Twitter and then at least two games per week until Dec. 31. It’s a massive thing, and now we are figuring out how to get sponsors for this.

Will the games be exclusive?
 They will also be on other social platforms, but we don’t care about exclusivity. If you’re a channel, yes, you need exclusivity to drive subscribers. But how do we prevent people from talking about Lebron James? Twitter is exactly where they want to talk about him. The moment he signed with the Lakers, there was a massive spike in conversation on Twitter. Now Twitter is becoming more and more video-centric. It is video that matters, it is what we monetize, and it is what drives conversation.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t want exclusive content. Last year, we had an iso cam from an NBA game. We were the first ones to do it, everyone was happy, and we monetized it. But it is all about ways to stay engaged for people who can’t watch the whole game.

Look at the NFL deal from a couple years back. It was not exclusive, and our viewers were additive as not all people are in front of a TV or a computer. That is our value and where we actually do well: providing a reason for people who don’t know each other to talk with each other. That is the difference with others as we are not a social network where you have to know someone.

You mention how Twitter is about driving conversation. But, obviously, those who use Twitter want to drive viewership and revenues. Are those goals, conversation, viewership, and revenue related, or are they different?
I think they are totally related and not mutually exclusive. There are organizations that use Twitter to drive subscribers and drive downloads of apps. The content is used to achieve certain goals, and sport association X may want more awareness and their sponsors to be happy. Other organizations and publishers may want to use highlight clips to remind fans that, if they want everything, they can download the app and subscribe to an OTT service. Netflix, Apple, and others are all partners that see the value of Twitter, and it is all about a piece of content that will drive the conversation, whether it is Stranger Things, the EPL, or the launch of the iPhone 11.

Some of the conversations on Twitter can be about negative things, like a blown call or what is happening with the NBA in China. What do you think leagues or rightsholders should do in those situations, where they may want to use Twitter to own a conversation around a controversy?
I can’t speak for a league or network, but a blown call is going to make it on social media, and people will talk about it. People are going to talk about it, but the thing is, they won’t talk about it in two hours because Twitter is about the now. After the game, there is something else, and Twitter is about what is happening. So whatever good or bad that is happening on the field is going to be surpassed by the next game, and it’s just part of the deal. Unless it is something egregious.

How should companies from outside Southeast Asia approach Twitter if they don’t speak Thai, Vietnamese, or other languages? What are tips for them so they can make sure content resonates across the region?
As a user and huge fan of Twitter, I think the video doesn’t have to be translated into a local language unless it is an interview, but, even then, you need to find out what the value of the interview is. People want to watch an incredible goal, third strike, that kind of thing. Unless there is something that is absolutely crucial in the commentary, a goal is a goal, and a home run is a home run. But, as a user in Thailand or Vietnam, I would like to see the tweet written in a local language because it helps me get drawn into the content as it can capture my attention.

The other week, we had massive amounts of people watching black holes on Fortnite. These are not people that play Fortnite but rather wanted to know what was going on and see what was happening. So, the more information a user gets the better it is, and the more you localize your tweets the higher the chances you will get an engaged audience.

Does that mean translation is important?
A long time ago, when the digital-media revolution started, I worked for a company that had football websites that needed to be translated into many different languages. And I always felt that the best work was when, instead of just translating, the people working on the websites wrote what happened with a local approach rather than just translation. Translation is the baseline, but, if you are also able to find somebody that can use the right words and slang, people will understand that the person knows what they are talking about. And that is why, in the Philippines, the local talent are the ones who drive the conversations around the NBA: it’s local language and local guys who know what to say and when to say it.

For Twitter, the challenge is providing the proper local content and premium content like sports, entertainment, news, and the stuff that matters.

What are your top tips for people to get the most out of Twitter?
If you want your content to be valuable, people need to be talking about it. Put your content out there, have people talking about, and make it relevant for a specific part of the world. And make it as a local as possible.

How about the length of a video? Does it matter?
Say what you have to say in the shortest amount of time as possible. It’s as simple as that because, on Twitter, there are other things to do like catching up on sports, politics, and news. They are not going to see your content all the time, but make sure it is there when the user wants it.

Twitter is where things are happening, and it is the YouTube of now while YouTube is the Twitter of five days ago. The long tail is not us.



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