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Saudi Arabia is the locomotive of the region, but each country is special to us, says Twitter

Benjamin Ampen: 82 percent of the world leaders are on Twitter. (Reuters)
LONDON: Twitter finally granted its users their request and increased the character limit from 140 to 280 on Nov. 7. This move came as part of a series of steps Twitter has taken to attract more users worldwide.
The MENA region is vital for the continuation of growth. From the regional office in Dubai, Benjamin Ampen, head of sales, revealed the company’s plans to expand in the Arab world. Ampen, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat over the phone, expressed his utmost optimism: Twitter’s future is bright.
He noted that Saudi Arabia is the region’s “locomotive” and is among Twitter’s top 10 markets worldwide. Ampen also expressed the company’s intention to cater for all of the MENA countries, and expand. In such a youthful demographic, Twitter will thrive, he insisted.

Q: Congratulations on increasing the character limit to 280. Twitter underwent an experiment and the results led to this decision. Can you tell me more?

A: It is indeed a positive step. What we have been doing for the past month is run a test on users, seeing how having access to 280 characters affects their Twitter behavior. We realized that users were often hitting the limit of 140 characters.
That means a significant portion of our users were trying to express themselves, but were not able to do so. When they hit the 140-word limit, they would either get frustrated and abandon the tweet or spend more time on how to create it rather than flexibly expressing. This new feature made the frustration disappear and that is really exciting for us.

Q: The feature has just gone into effect. What is the feedback so far from tech experts and from users on the platform?

A: It is really positive. Something really important to us was making sure it was not hindering the very nature of Twitter that is speed. When we did this test, we noticed that only 5 percent of the tweets were longer than 140 characters, and only 2 percent were longer than 190. So, in reality, Twitter’s character is not changing, it has just made life easier when it is necessary.

Q: Reports from the summer have illustrated that Twitter has reached a point of stagnation in growth, and is not yielding earnings, but the latest report has noted that things have taken a turn. Is Twitter finally getting back on track?

A: Few weeks ago we announced our earnings. The summary was that it was a good quarter for us. Growth was broad-based and from different areas. We have witnessed more user engagement, for example. This is the fourth quarter in a row we have witnessed an increase in daily active users. In terms of growth we are talking in double digits. This quarter it was 14 percent. We have 330 million active users on the platform. We are now focusing on video too. We are definitely on the right track.

Q: Let us talk about MENA users. Has the Gulf been witnessing further growth?

A: MENA is a very important region for Twitter. This is a region that is growing in terms of users and revenue. This is a region where we have a country, Saudi Arabia, that is really the locomotive of the region. Saudi on its own is among our top 10 markets globally. The reason is that you have a population that is young, equipped and when you go back to what the essence of Twitter is, it is about what is happening.

Q: What is the next step and challenge you have for the MENA region?

A: We opened the MENA headquarters in Dubai only two years ago. In two years, we have been sure to focus our efforts on Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the drivers for the region’s market. However, the region is wider; we have to spend time in Egypt in the countries of the Levant, in North AfricA: We need to understand the audiences in each country, and the existing and potential users to provide to them the best platform possible. Each country of the region is special.

Q: For some social users, Facebook is seen as the tool to keep in touch with friends and family and Instagram is to share and browse moments presented in pictures. What is Twitter’s brand and core essence?

A: Twitter is what is happening and what people are talking about. We talk about a platform that is used to keep in touch with who you went to school with; Twitter is the people you wish you had been to school with. You go to Twitter based on your interests. Twitter will give you, in real time, the best content available over there. Today, what happens in the world happens on Twitter. It can be official words, as we have more than 82 percent of the world leaders on Twitter, but it can also be your words and your thoughts.