Nadav Avidan, Global PR Lead At Viber:

Vibrant Start-Up Connecting Over 800 Million People

With the growing trend of messaging, can start-ups help us be ourselves when we communicate, and build bridges? This is the story of Viber's journey and the challenges of connecting hundreds of millions in a rapidly changing environment. It is also the story of the man who tells it

Released in December of 2010, Viber has connected more than 800 million registered users around the world in just six years. This cross-platform app for messaging, calling, videocalling and a lot of other ways to interact with friends, family or brands, gives its users a secure space to be themselves, to communicate and share. In just 60 seconds of Viber’s peak hours, three million messages are sent, 300,000 stickers are shared and 1.5 million images are downloaded. Nadav Avidan, Viber’s Global PR Lead, is on a mission to tell this brand’s unique story and communicate with this vast, world-wide community of users.

How does a day in a PR Lead’s life at a business with more than 800 million users look?

Very busy, but always interesting and fun. I’m in charge of global PR, so on any given day I’m guiding our story with agencies and team members in many countries and time zones, from Nepal to NYC. I love telling the Viber story because I truly believe in it – we all do – so even though our days are usually hectic, it’s always with a smile on our faces.Viber is localised in 30 different languages worldwide. How do you manage to communicate effectively on a global level, and in different local communities?
There are many differences between different places in the world, and it’s mainly a question of how much you want to pay attention to the differences rather than embrace the similarities. And because we are all about people it is really important to us, so when we tell our story we do our best to really pay attention to making it both a global fit to what we want to tell and giving it a local relevance to the specific market in which we tell it. With that in mind, we always make the effort to tell a story that will resonate everywhere and with everyone.

In just 60 seconds of Viber’s peak hours, 3 million messages are sent, 300,000 stickers are shared and 1.5 million images are downloaded

What are your greatest challenges?

The way I see it, my biggest challenge is to find new ways to remind people all over the world that we are more like each other than we are different. This is the story of Viber, the fact the people are more similar than different, and finding ways – especially with everything that’s going on in the world – to keep reminding people about that. It’s a challenge and an opportunity, but I think this is one of the main reasons why I love what I do.

What’s the company culture at the office like?

Crazy start-up culture, mainly. It’s like a big, crazy family.

Viber started free and ad-free, and it plans to stay free and ad-free. So how is it monetisable today, and how challenging is it for such an app, such a start-up, to strike a balance between value for its users and monetisation?

First of all, without going into specifics, Viber is free for users to use, but we are looking into several ways of monetising it through working with partners, businesses and brands. Like, for example, the recent launch of public accounts that we did, and branded sticker packs and all sorts of things. So in that sense we are looking into ways of getting our revenue from businesses, so the service can be as free as possible for users.

But the idea of Viber is not to be free at any cost, because we don’t want to compromise on quality, for example. The idea is to be as cheap as possible, and when we can give it free, we will give it free. But the tag line of the company is connect freely, which is different from free, because if you call someone with Viber Out for example, you need to buy credits. The difference is you pay a few cents for an international call instead of paying a few dollars for exactly the same call. So it’s not 100% free, but it’s very, very close to free.

…with an app that deals with communication, if you fail to provide 200% security you just don’t have a chance to survive.

You mentioned public accounts, that is something Viber is famous for. What are the benefits of such an account for businesses and for users, in comparison to more standard services for example?

For users, they can contact businesses the way they’re used to contacting their usual points of contact in their daily lives. Meaning when they talk to businesses, they can send videos, they can send stickers, basically they don’t have to leave the app. So everything feels familiar, and everything is built so they really don’t have to change themselves and learn a different language and different UI every time they need to communicate with a business. From the business perspective, I think first the fact that users feel at home with Viber really helps the conversation. Secondly, I think that we offer a very large set of tools to help businesses create the right way for them to communicate with their clients, because there is a difference if you’re a service that helps people to book flights or a local restaurant or a shoe company, there is a difference in how you want to interact with your audience. In that sense, I think Viber is the most advanced solution out there today for businesses to really tailor their solution to their needs.

The idea of Viber is not to be free at any cost, because we don’t want to compromise on quality, for example. The idea is to be as cheap as possible, and when we can give it free, we will give it free

What role do you think messaging will play in marketing in future?

I think that we will see messaging apps growing more and more towards these kinds of solutions, I think that many will follow what Viber is doing now. In the end, people are moving from voice calls to messaging, you don’t need me to tell you that, and with the move to messaging as the preferred way of communication, it’s only natural for businesses and brands to find ways to interact with users in the same way that they interact with their friends.

The challenge for businesses is how to interact with users on a large scale. Because if you want to offer even the simplest customer service, if you want to do it only using people, you’ll need to hire a giant team of people to answer everyone with a normal waiting time. So this is why we also added the option to have bots. A bot is basically the best way to provide added value on a large scale, because once you create a tailor-made bot that solves the pain that your business offers to solve, from that point on it can serve ten people, ten thousand people or one hundred million people. It’s just a question of how many will find you, and for that we have Discovery solution that helps businesses.

How do you stay relevant in an industry that is so rapidly, constantly evolving?

I think that we don’t really care about anything but our users, we just listen to what they are asking and listen to what they need, and we make sure we provide them with what they are looking for to enrich their experience in the best possible quality on offer today. I think our users feel it, and I think this is why they stay with us, and this is why they tell their friends and families that they should download Viber as well.

With such a great user-base comes great responsibility and challenges, especially when it comes to privacy and security. Viber offers end-to-end encryption without a middle man, not even Viber itself. Was it hard to maintain this and on the other hand to communicate these kinds of standards?

If you’re asking internally, it was always obvious to us that there is a difference between security and privacy. When it comes to privacy, you’re basically in charge of yourself. I’m explaining so that we are clear on this: privacy means that if you send me something through Viber or anything else, I can immediately take a screen shot and forward it to other people, right? When it comes to security, it means that if we are having a conversation, then the platform that provides you with the means to have that conversation should make sure that no-one, including the platform itself, can read the messages that we write to each other. Because this is the whole idea of communication, the fact that you can choose who participates in a conversation. You can have a conversation with your wife for example, or a girlfriend, or you can have a conversation with a group called My Family, and you will share different things in those two forums, but it’s you who chooses what to share and with whom.

So in that sense, when it comes to security and making sure that no-one else has access to your conversations, I think it was always one of the very basic understandings of Viber from the moment it was founded that we need to provide the highest level of security possible, because with an app that deals with communication, if you fail to provide 200% security you just don’t have a chance to survive.

…part of the reason why Viber is so special is that we don’t use fancy words to describe what we do. It’s just who we are. There is no point in doing what we do if we can’t share it with our users…

PR specialists have many new challenges with the growing trend of social media and the pressure on businesses to always be in touch as well as transparent. How do you manage these challenges at Viber?

First of all, as someone who works in PR, I’m used to being available all the time so social media doesn’t change anything (laugh). No, seriously, I think social media just gave a name to something that was already happening. I think that generations like millennials today, and the generation before them and after them, it’s not that we are necessarily smarter than other generations, I don’t want to call other generations not smart, but I think we are much more aware of what’s happening around us. So in that sense, you only need to use words like “transparent” if you’re doing things that shouldn’t be transparent, that’s the way I see it.

We are who we are, we do our best to answer everyone, and we do our best to make sure that everyone understands where we’re coming from and what we are trying to achieve, and I think part of the reason why Viber is so special is that we don’t use fancy words to describe what we do. It’s just who we are. There is no point in doing what we do if we can’t share it with our users, if we can’t be ourselves with our users. You can’t create a platform that calls on everyone to be themselves when they communicate, and then not be yourself when you’re communicating it.

You can’t just sit and wait for the client or the company or the brand to feed you with the stories whenever they have them, you need to be proactive and you need to come up with stories by yourself, and to do that you need to be able to look at the world through the eyes of a storyteller

Do you have a golden PR rule to live by?

A golden PR rule… I have many. I think that one of the biggest rules that drives me is to focus on quality and not quantity. And by that I mean that whenever you tell a story, you should always make sure that you’re not just telling it because you like the sound of your own voice, but you tell the story because it holds real added value to those who listen to it. I think that if you do that you can become a good PR person, and if you forget that you’re just a carrier of information, which is something completely different.

After 15 years and diverse experience in PR, what’s the most important advice you can share with a colleague just starting a career?

Choose a different profession! (laugh). No, I’m kidding! I think it really is: invest the time to develop your storytelling skills and your ability to identify a good story when you see one.

When I’m talking about storytelling skills it’s really like reading the newspaper or watching the news or watching a movie or having a conversation with your friends and trying to find angles that make a story out of it. Try to be the one that people want to listen to when you tell stories about the time we went to Greece or the time we went to this party or something like that, try to understand what creates a good story, that’s point number one.

And point two is, once when you have a specific topic to talk about, with your first client for example, as a PR person you need to find a way to look at the world from their perspective, which means every day find at least two or three angles that, if told correctly, are relevant to their business.

You can’t just sit and wait for the client or the company or the brand to feed you with the stories whenever they have them, you need to be proactive and you need to come up with stories by yourself, and to do that you need to be able to look at the world through the eyes of a storyteller.

If you are looking at the world through the eyes of a storyteller, and you’re thinking: what I’m seeing right now, how can it become a story that is relevant to my brand? It feels weird in the beginning, but after a while it becomes second nature. And it’s amazing. I can tell you that when I’m talking with my friends, or watching a movie, or going to a party, or having lunch, and I see things and every time I’m like: this could be a story, this could be a story, this with a small change can be something amazing, and it’s fun because the world keeps changing in front of your eyes if you do that, as opposed to when things just happen and you don’t pay attention to them.