India is today a social network country. The number of active users of Facebook in the country is far outpacing every other developing market. While the US continues to be the largest, with 19 per cent of the total Facebook users, India is only a few clicks away and growing at threatening speeds. Over the last two years, we have seen huge tides that created change from a period where social networks were just a passing phase, to the present day where we finally surrender to the brute force represented by Facebook, Twitter and countless other such avenues.
2012 will be a year that will redefine most of our knowledge of social networks, and the power that lies within. Like a sleeping giant, the social network revolution is still nascent and we haven’t even begun to touch the surface of the possible. We all started out by assuming that the entire online, digital burst was nothing but a bubble that could burst any time. If you were one of those people, then I am sure today you feel foolish enough to have deprived this revolution of its due justice.
Today, whether we like it or not, social networks are here to stay. More importantly, the digital era will redefine the way every one of us will buy.
In 2011-12, we have seen almost a 200 per cent growth in brands establishing their footprints in various communities and portals; almost as though a new gold rush has been suddenly uncovered.
In the year ahead and for years to come, digital enthusiasts will be delighted to know that all indicators point to a great new Media Age.
1. Facebook has transformed the way we all connect with our friends, brands, services and information – from being a simple platform to connect with friends and build your social circle earlier, to a universe that entails your entire world today. Now, not only can you stay in touch with your friends, but also interact with your favourite brands, get a better price, or even share feedback on a product. Companies that don’t realise the potential of this goldmine only stand to lose an opportunity that a competitor brand, a more aggressive one, will benefit from. Today, who can define Facebook? Is it an adda of sorts, a place of fun, learning, exploring, sharing, business, love? Today, if couples can make a connection on Facebook and go on to actually promise themselves to each other through marriage, then we can only imagine the power a brand can gain by making consumers fall in love with them. A leading brand doesn’t need to invest that much in building their customer awareness, but rather focus on service delivery or product innovation. However, most brands today that are leaders always stand a chance to be challenged by the next in line. To continue in your leadership position, it’s important that you continue to not only engage your existing patrons, but ones that you have not yet come into connection with. This is the power of social networks and the Internet. Reach an unreachable ocean. For instance, today BMW has overtaken Mercedes as the largest luxury car seller. Their social footprint stands testament to this. Similarly, the future will reveal many more such examples, where leadership was not taken for granted, and new media, new consumers, and new dynamics of markets will be welcomed.
2. Growing online India – The Internet, as we first discovered it, was much like television. You switch it on, view what you want and then simply switch it off. Our dependence on the Internet was limited and our access and understanding even lesser. Web 1.0 was a TV that ran on local city channels. The Internet today is, true to the word, a virtual reality that is preferred reality to most users. The time spent on the Internet, on Facebook, on emails has increased; this from a country with a growing population that has an average time spent online per user of around 12 hours. This is only going to increase as Internet usage increases. In a country with a huge population of youth, this only means many more future online surfers.
The Internet audience in India is very young compared to the rest of the world. 75 per cent of the people online in India are under the age of 34 years, and almost half of them are under 24 years of age; as compared to the global average of 52 per cent and 57 per cent for the Asia Pacific region of a population less than 34 years of age. This explains the expansion, adaptability and future prospects of the Indian online market.
The digital world is expanding, driven by growth in several key categories across the board. Social networking is the key driver for mobile and PC surfing in India. The young generation is leading the Internet revolution in India. The growth and future prospects of Internet in India is bright, and going by the current trends, India being one of the Internet superpowers is not at all a farfetched dream.
(Akshar Peerbhoy is Director – Operations at MAA Communications.)