By Brad Haynes
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Twitter Inc has found a bright spot in Brazil, Latin America's largest economy, even as weak advertising sales across the globe have punished the social network's stock in recent weeks.
Advertising revenue rose about 30 percent in Brazil last year, Twitter's top executive in the country told Reuters, defying a two-year slowdown in the local economy and more than doubling the company's 13 percent revenue growth globally.
Twitter, which does not break down its revenue by country, gave no concrete sales numbers in Brazilian or U.S. currency. It was an unusual move for the company to give details on its performance in one country.
"Brazil is a motor of growth for Twitter, both in users and in revenue," said Fiamma Zarife in a recent interview.
A surge of interest in real-time marketing around the Olympics, which Rio de Janeiro hosted in August, brought new clients to the platform, she said, and rising smartphone use continues to generate user growth in the country.
The performance in Brazil last year may have been a bright spot for Twitter, but the company is still struggling to convince investors it can win the global war for online advertising against rivals Snapchat and Facebook Inc.
Earlier this month, Twitter posted its slowest quarterly revenue growth since it went public four years ago, sending its shares down more than 10 percent to a seven-month low.
While the number of Twitter's monthly active users worldwide edged up 4 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, it jumped 18 percent in Brazil, the third-fastest-growing market over that period, according to Zarife.
Zarife said there is more room to run in Brazil as smartphone use continues to grow. Just 70 percent of Brazilians on Twitter connect via the mobile app, compared to about 83 percent globally.
Smartphone penetration doubled in two years to 40 percent of Brazilians last year, according to pollster Ibope. That has boosted many tech companies in the country, even as Brazil's economy struggles with its deepest recession on record.
Digital ad spending in the country was expected to grow 12 percent in 2016 to 10.4 billion reais ($3.4 billion), according to industry group IAB Brasil.
Zarife said her strategy for attracting both users and advertising will be to focus on video content and live events. Brazil was second only to the United States in Twitter conversations about the Super Bowl, she said.
The strategy paid off during the Olympics, when Zarife said several clients including Banco Bradesco SA, a sponsor of the event, stepped up marketing on Twitter and were convinced to keep a strong presence on the platform since then.
Zarife, formerly head of agency relations in Brazil, took the top job in the country last month from Guilherme Ribenboim, who remains Twitter's vice president for Latin America.
(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Bill Rigby)