The vox populist

Using only 140 characters, Shailesh Rao is helping the world find its voice

Shailesh Rao ’99

hen Shailesh Rao ’99 joined Twitter in 2012 as vice president of international operations, the San Francisco-based social platform had a vision of transforming into a truly global company.

One problem: It had only a handful of overseas offices, a few employees and very little focus in general overseas.

Since then, Twitter has seen tremendous growth internationally, expanding to 15 overseas offices in only two years. Now, 77 percent of Twitter’s active users — and almost 30 percent of its revenue — come from outside the United States.

Much of that growth is thanks to Rao and his team, which first needed to develop a sense for "what Twitter would look like as a global company, where we needed to be and how we needed to operate," he says.  

Next came organizational design, which Rao defines as "thinking about the people, the leaders and skill sets, and then thinking about the communication and decision-making processes that need to be in place."

Finally, the team executed its plans. "We worked hard and fast to make sure that we found the right people and did all the things operationally we needed to do," he says.

"[Branded content is] changing the way that people do marketing. And that’s pretty exciting
to see."

The result is a Twitter that is globally "live, public, conversational and distributed," says Rao, "used to help people stay connected to their world and the larger world around them."

Any connection to the larger world, however, can be difficult to maintain due to access challenges, content needs and language differences. Finding leaders in foreign markets who can educate users requires tying Twitter into global events, such as Ramadan or the World Cup, while allowing users to share local perspectives on issues intrinsic to their cultures.

"To think that, two years ago, we had no one and nothing in Brazil," says Rao, "and today, to be able to look at a large presence in Brazil, with a vibrant business that’s growing and usage that’s growing. That’s very satisfying."

As Twitter grows, so do the number of voices on the platform. Four out of five world leaders are active on the platform, Rao says. Brands also are bringing their own carefully crafted voices and conversations to the mix, adding a new layer of corporate accessibility, accountability and engagement. Citizens and consumers can interact, converse and provide feedback, all in real time.

"It’s changing the way marketing is thought of," says Rao. "It’s changing the way that people do marketing – with an authentic voice, in the moment to provide relevancy, and engaged with their audience in a true dialogue. And that’s pretty exciting to see."