The Nasscom India Leadership Summit, impossibly called ‘NILF’, is the Indian IT industry’s annual jamboree-cum-schmoozefest. It’s predictable, overdrawn (over three days, this year from 15-17 February) and fashionably behind the curve when it comes to any major technology trend.
But for Twitter India, NILF held promise. Because Nasscom had approached it to set up one of its “Blue Rooms” at the summit. Blue Rooms are Twitter-designed and managed one-room studios where celebrities are invited to record live videos and chat live with Twitter users. Launched originally in Australia in March 2015, India got one in May 2016.
So Twitter at its own expense set up a special Blue Room at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Mumbai, where NILF was being held.
Similarly, sometime last year, Twitter had approached Hindi movie superstar Shah Rukh Khan to be part of one of its Blue Room activities. Except, Khan failed to turn up, and Twitter’s hopes went down the drain.
“If that level of celebs don’t turn up, it won’t work out,” said a person who was involved in the planning and setup.
That observation essentially summarises Twitter India’s existential crisis. Unless something bigger happens—bigger audiences, bigger celebs, bigger brands—it won’t work out.
In spite of having 25-30 million users in India (Twitter does not provide a breakdown of its user base by country), or roughly one-tenth of its global user base, Twitter India has been struggling to define a clear strategy for a while now.
Except for minor, incremental bets, the social media service is largely on auto-pilot after having lost most of its senior management during the last one year. Its headquarters has lost interest in India, content to leave it largely to local or APAC leaders to eke out what they can as revenue.
“There is no focus. No monetisation. No scope to grow. It will be as it is,” says a former* Twitter India employee who declined to be named as he isn’t authorised to speak to the media.
“[This year] we weren’t even invited to San Francisco for the annual meeting in January. We had to gatecrash it. India was listed and then taken away from the list. We got a shock. We were completely unwelcome. They gave us a five-minute slot,” he said.
Twitter did not respond to detailed queries sent by The Ken.
Lite, but late
After the failure of its first (and probably last) big bet on India—the acquisition of Zipdial in 2015 for $35 million—Twitter’s India growth strategy has been a painfully slow and confused throwing of darts at a wall to see what sticks.