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Twitter takes aim at 'retail politics' in Latin America

The Twitter logo is shown at the company's headquarters in San Francisco, California October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
The Twitter logo is shown at the company's headquarters in San Francisco, California October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

By Esteban Israel

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - After seeing explosive growth across Latin America, Twitter Inc is now tapping into the region's other big passion besides soccer - politics.

The company dispatched its top political strategist to Brazil this week to give senators in one of its biggest global markets a pep talk on tweets and how to use the social network ahead of the October general election.

"The Latin American market is growing, and elections are good opportunities for Twitter," Adam Sharp said in an interview.

A former congressional aide in Washington, Sharp's job is to promote the use of Twitter as an indispensable work tool for governments and politicians.

In a year when Brazil, Colombia and half a dozen other Latin American nations are holding elections, the microblog allows politicians to increase the scope and speed of campaigns and profit from "scalable retail politics," Sharp told Reuters.

"Authenticity is the most critical tactic when it comes to using Twitter in politics," he said, adding that some Latin American leaders have been quick in recognizing the power of the platform for enabling direct communication with voters.

"I would encourage engaging more, using it less as just a broadcast platform and more for two-way dialogue," Sharp said.

Twitter was instrumental in the organization of massive anti-government demonstrations that rocked Brazil President Dilma Rousseff's popularity last year. She learned the lesson quickly, however, reactivating her own dormant Twitter account (@dilmabr) and even pioneering Q&A sessions with her 2.3 million followers.

As with celebrities and athletes, politicians are often followed by millions of people on Twitter, an audience the San Francisco-based company can monetize through advertisement.

With still low Internet penetration and rapid adoption of smartphones, Latin America is a fast-growing market for Twitter and other social networks like Facebook. Brazil is the company's fifth-largest global market, Mexico ranks in the top 10 and Colombia and Chile are not far behind.

No Latin American politician gets even close to U.S. President Barack Obama's online flock of 42.9 million, but the region is home to prolific users like Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (@juanmansantos) with 2.8 million followers, Argentina's Cristina Fernandez (@cfkargentina) with 2.7 million and Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto (@epn) with 2.6 million.

In Venezuela, where government critics complain of limited or no access to mass media, opposition leader Henrique Capriles (@hcapriles) uses Twitter to reach 4.4 million people.

Sharp said politicians often ask what Twitter stood to gain from the growing intersection between politics and social media.

"What I tell them is, let's focus on making you successful because our success comes indirectly from that," he said.

(Editing by Todd Benson and Tom Brown)

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