Facebook’s India “Likes”
In a 2012 episode of the Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Super Soul Sunday” series, renowned author Deepak Chopra, who hails from New Delhi, spoke of the potential for social networks to change the world through conversations. “Social networks,” he said, “are an extension of the mind, an extension of the brain. And we are re-wiring the global brain, literally, through cyberspace.”
As our minds extend into cyberspace, a particular platform stands out among social media’s founding fathers in facilitating conversations without borders. Facebook, the site that grew to behemoth levels in less than 10 years and starred in a major motion picture, counted approximately 727 million people as daily active users on its site in September 2013, with 80 percent of those conversationalists living outside of the United States and Canada.
A couple months later, Nathan Eagle, co-founder and CEO of the mobile marketing company Jana, said that Chopra’s homeland is poised to surpass the U.S. in the number of Facebook users within a matter of months. And for good reason.
The latest figure for Facebook users in India is at almost 115 million. This is 30 million users behind the U.S.; however, year-over-year (Y-O-Y) Internet growth in the country is at almost 40 percent, compared with just five percent for the U.S. Whereas the Internet is an ingrained way of life for a majority of Americans, India is steadily gaining access to Internet technology. With 71 percent of Internet users in India being on Facebook, it’s a very plausible assumption that additional Internet users will equal additional Facebook users, and thus easily exceed American users by virtue of the thirst for Internet access.
Given the source of these figures, it’s not surprising that mobile phones are the driving force behind the Facebook rage in India. To put it in perspective, the 900 million mobile phone users in India are greater than the combined total populations of the European Union and the U.S. Factoring in that India’s total population is roughly four times that of the U.S., this figure illustrates how mobile devices are often the sole means of Internet connectivity in a country where widespread broadband access is still a work in progress.
Raju BN, editor of the Technology Personalized blog, has witnessed the parallel between the network’s rise to fame in India and increased mobile access in the country.
“The mobile Internet revolution in India was fueled by diminishing 2G Internet rates, and people took to Facebook like a fish takes to water,” reflected Raju. “Also, Facebook has partnered with local carriers to provide free access to the site, which is fueling the growth rate significantly.”
It was the advent of mobile phone usage that helped Facebook supplant its predecessor, the Google-run network Orkut, which saw immediate success in India in 2004 and 2005 but did not initially have a mobile interface.
So what is being buzzed about on Facebook as it becomes the prime choice for social media in India? The company released data on the five most talked about topics in the country for 2013, and the trends mirror the political, social and technology interests of Americans. As the country gears up for an election year, prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was the most discussed topic on the site, with close to 7 million “likes” on his official page. At second place was the recently retired cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, who had almost double the likes of Modi. In third place was the release of the iPhone 5s. Following the iPhone were discussions on the Reserve Bank of India’s new governor, Raghuram Rajan, and the launch of the Mangalayaan orbiter mission to Mars.
On the commercial side, the most followed brands on the site in 2013 were Nokia, Samsung, Adidas, Nike and Reebok. And it is the business aspect of Facebook that Raju sees as truly fertile ground for marketing endeavors in India.
“Businesses are slowly waking up to the social media phenomenon here. Telecommunication, e-commerce and consumer technology companies have significant presence in this space, but others are lagging behind a lot,” he shared. “Social media is a great resource for data mining. I’ve heard from several companies outside India as to how Facebook helps them get direct feedback from consumers, which wasn’t possible a few years back.”
On a personal level, life event updates on Facebook in India also reflect the “FYI” nature of the network that millions of Americans have embraced in notifying friends and family of the latest goings-on in their worlds. Among the most frequent timeline updates noted were relationship statuses, travels, births and major purchases.
Raju, who has been recognized as one of the most influential Indians in social media technology, personally appreciates the network’s ability to form bridges, both personal and professional, across the globe.
“Unlike Twitter, Facebook isn’t about breaking news. It’s more about sharing personal stuff and the stuff you care about. Being an early adopter, I’ve seen Facebook grow from just another Orkut wannabe to the most essential networking site. Professionally, Facebook has helped me to connect with so many like-minded people across the world.”
This confirms Chopra’s observations on social media as an extension of the mind. As we use the medium as a means of extending our thoughts on any given topic to as many people as possible, a global conversation is gradually created. Facebook helps millions extend their minds daily, and as India inches closer to bypassing the U.S. in users, it’s clear it will become the country’s loudest mouthpiece in the global conversation.
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