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Friday, March 16, 2012

What’s India’s message for Facebook?

While recent research suggests a downturn in the use of social networking sites such as Facebook in India, qualitative research carried out by Thinktank International suggests the picture is more complex.

Among young Indians there is perhaps less excitement around social networking than there was last year, and there does seem to be a move away from using Facebook as a place to post updates and share information with friends.

This isn’t simply a rejection of Facebook by young Indians, rather, there’s been a reappraisal of its place in their lives. The Social Network still plays an important role as a means of free instant messaging with friends – a source of appeal shared by Twitter and the hugely desirable BlackBerry Messenger.

Increasingly, Facebook comes into play as IM communication moves from the computer to mobile, which, given the limits of Indian 3G coverage, doesn’t lend itself to lengthy updates and photo posting, but is ideal for short instant messages.

This trend opens up two questions. First, if usage is being scaled back to IM-ing, will Facebook continue to be the best social hub for young people? Also, given the fact that Facebook has a far shorter history in India than in the Anglo-Saxon West, it’s reasonable to assume that it also commands weaker loyalty. In other emerging markets, Thinktank researchers have noticed the emergence of competitors like Viber and Line whose attractive new messaging features could draw users away from Facebook.

Secondly, what does this means for brands on Facebook? There are some real campaign success stories in India (PepsiCo’s initiative during the Cricket World Cup is one notable example), but does the chance of going ‘viral’ on Facebook diminish if young Indian users only engage with it as a messaging platform?


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