Mike Isaac

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Twitter Tips Its International Strategy

Twitter wants to go even more global than it is today.

The company is upping its game on increasing customers outside of the United States, signing deals for prime mobile phone placement in some cases, and for reaching untapped audiences in others.

The goal: Boosting Twitter’s relatively low global market penetration, which rests at around nine percent, compared to its U.S. market penetration which is around 22 percent, according to J.P. Morgan estimates.

Building up its user base outside the U.S. is especially important; since Twitter’s average revenue per international user is a fraction of what the company makes on U.S. users ($0.30 vs $2.17 per thousand timeline views, respectively), Twitter needs to make up for that gap by scaling its international reach as fast as possible.

Over the past year, we’ve begun to see the first fruits of that strategy. Twitter is partnering with smaller regional telecommunications carriers, marketing deals to new customers which would let them tweet freely without it being counted against their data plan. Pakistan’s Mobilink, for instance — one of the biggest carriers in the country — offered this deal to pre-paid customers earlier this year.

The idea is, Twitter could gain a new set of first-timers to the service, while carriers like Mobilink can use the deal as a marketing strategy to increase data plan signups. (Similar deals have been cut with carriers in India, as well as other countries.)

In other cases, Twitter is trying to be installed on phones that don’t even use Internet at all. As Reuters reported on Thursday, Twitter aims to partner with Singapore-based startup U2opia Mobile to deliver tweets to low-end cellular phones that aren’t equipped with data connections.

In this case, the emphasis will be localized information, serving up relevant tweets based on where the user is in the world. (As an aside, this is quite a novel approach to someone’s first time signing up and using Twitter, and markedly different from its current incantation.)

“For a lot of end users in the emerging markets, it’s going to be their first Twitter experience,” U2opia Mobile co-founder Sumesh Menon told Reuters.

It’s not all just about the low end, though. In a new partnership with Deutsche Telekom, Twitter will get top billing on some smartphone homescreens, via a widget that will let users “keep up with Twitter right from their homescreen,” according to a report from GigaOm. That plan will initially kick off in countries like the Netherlands, Romania, Greece and Croatia. It will also roll out in Germany, too — a country with a particularly robust economy, and yet one where Twitter has hardly made a dent in signups.

I imagine there will be more to come in the following year. J.P. Morgan’s recent research report said that Twitter is currently aiming for many developing markets where low-end smartphones still reign supreme (much like Facebook is also doing), including using SMS to access Twitter — much like the service was used in its early startup days.

So for now, if Twitter can’t rapidly raise that magic ARPU number derived from international users, it’s just going have to get a whole lot more of them. We’ll see if it pays off.

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— Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”