TURKISH pop sensation Murat Boz is closing in on two million Twitter followers, a sign that the microblogging service is gaining popularity despite growth slowing in its US home.
Boz — and Twitter — began getting added attention in Turkey after the San Francisco- based company reached a deal with wireless carrier Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS that lets users send short Twitter messages, or tweets, from their handsets at no charge.
The pact represents a central ingredient of Twitter's push for new users while preparing for an initial public offering.
The company is targeting expansion in areas such as Asia, South America and the Middle East, where many people access the web over inexpensive devices known as feature phones, rather than high-priced smartphones. By developing simpler versions of its application and landing deals with mobile carriers and device makers, Twitter is making its service cheaper and easier to use.
"We need to deliver a more compelling product for lowend devices," said Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently.
It's harder to get applications on to feature phones than it is to deliver them to smartphones, whose users can easily download new software on to iPhone and Android devices through an online store. Putting Twitter on lessadvanced phones requires tweaks to the software and navigating a thicket of regional players.
By promoting Twitter, operators such as Turkcell are getting customers to spend more time on the web and paying more for mobile data. In return Twitter adds users, helping it sell advertising to marketers around the world.
"Our number of mobile Twitter users has increased threefold" since the partnership, says Turkcell. "These users have also generated revenue by clicking on photos and visiting other links that were shared in tweets." Twitter has partnered with about 250 operators in more than 100 countries, including India, Pakistan, Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines. In some cases, customers can freely read and post tweets without incurring data charges. In other deals, operators just waive text-messaging charges.
Jana Messerschmidt, the Twitter VP of business development who's leading the global effort, said Twitter's international popularity is a selling point in negotiations.
"They are looking for compelling, sticky services that are going to drive users to use either internet on their phone for the first time or use more data services than they used before," said Messerschmidt.
Messerschmidt arranged in July with Espoo, Finlandbased Nokia Oyj to get a Twitter app pre-installed on the handset maker's Asha line of phones, which were designed with stripped-down features to make them more affordable for buyers in India and other emerging markets. The companies worked together on the app's look and functionality, Seppo Aaltonen, Nokia's head of mobile-phone strategy, said in an e-mail.
As Twitter pushes into more markets, Messerschmidt said she enjoyed seeing the many new ways the site was being used, from people checking cricket scores in India to farmers checking agricultural product prices in Africa.
"The Twitter service is so simple it should be able to reach anybody on the planet," she said.