Marketers are hunting for the most authentic data in their bid to catch the huge mass of consumers young. The Indian youth is emerging as a key decision maker and the most targeted segment for political advertising by the campaigning parties. Obama has just created history by exploiting the power of the online revolution. This high in demand and somewhat pampered mass of Indian youth are socialising in great numbers at various social networking sites forming communities, voicing their opinions, showcasing talents, living virtual lives, breaking and building governments. Social networking sites are no longer a place to hang out for only the urban English speaking population of the country.
There is an emerging popularity of Indian social networking sites, along with their global counterparts, among the Tier II and Tier III population of India. In a bid to channelise this popularity, Indian social networking sites are donning a more local image, driving their focus more on audio and video content, thereby bringing down the dependence on English as a language. However, the sheer scope calls for a lot of planning and execution.
An emerging culture of Hinglish, Benglish…
Desi social networking sites have revealed a completely new Indian culture that has not just modified its languages, but has also got a new voice, a far from conformist image, and a new social graph.
Ashish Kashyap, CEO, ibibo.com, while talking about the differentiating Indian image of ibibo, said, “Ours is an entertainment and talent-based social network. It gives the youth of India a unique platform to showcase their talent, express themselves, create their own social network, audience and fan club, and hence get recognition.”
H Krishnan, Country Head, Myspace.com, said, “Myspace has quite a few global properties that have been launched here suiting the Indian context. But even other than that, we promote a lot of India-specific content like promoting musical talent and even taking their talent abroad. We are planning quite a few initiatives that will uplift the pressing social issues in the future.”
Talking about involving more of the non-English speaking users, Kashyap further said, “We are seeing the Indian youth communicating in mixed languages – Hinglish (English + Hindi), Bengali + English, etc., – especially while micro blogging, blurbing or any other form of expression. They are creating local language words, spelt phonetically in the English script. This is an emergence of a unique phenomena for India.”
According to Krishnan, “The entire shift of content to more of audio and video has made the penetration of social networking sites among the Tier II and Tier III population more viable and relevant.”
Need to get more specific in content
Quite a few industry players feel that the Indian social networking sites need to shed their generic image and get more specific in their content. According to Faisal Farooqui, CEO, Mouthshut.com, “We have to accept that social networking sites that are generic and undifferentiated cannot survive for too long. How many Facebook and Orkut look-alikes are we talking of? User fatigue is soon going to set in. Until and unless these sites offer new and varied platforms with diverse content packaging, the ‘me-toos’ are going to have a hard time surviving.”
Gautam Mehra, Business Head, Search Marketing, Ignitee, however, felt, “Going niche is not the only necessary thing for the success of Indian social networking sites, but it could be a viable business model. The big idea should be to integrate niche communities within the large segment of users.”
Government lax in terms of Internet penetration in India
Considering the huge potential of the viral effect of social networking sites in the communication process, the digital industry players expect a lot from the Government.
Talking about the potential reach of this medium, Kashyap of ibibo, said, “ibibo is an example of the Indian youth in the Tier II and III cities and towns embracing social media. More than 60 per cent of our audience is from this geography. This audience has a need to express, get recognition and build a new social graph.”
Gautam of Ignitee opined, “The things that will make social networking sites a success story in India are first to make the number of Internet users grow beyond the much hyped 55 million and initiatives of coming out with the right content and software versions in the regional languages.”
According to Mouthshut.com’s Farooqui, “As long as broadband rates are kept low and the Internet penetration goes beyond what it already is, I do see B and C centres also getting on to the social networking scenario. But it might take time. The need of the hour is for the established portals to launch regional language sites.”
It is a known fact that India has long caught up with the social networking sites culture, but whether the power of this medium is going to be well harnessed by the media players in this country is yet to be seen. With social networking sites playing a major role in Barack Obama’s victory, the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections could be a good testing ground for the power of this emerging medium.