Doing the math on social media…

Portions from an article I recently contributed to a publication:

Yesterday, I read a press report that said Asia has been declared Facebook’s fastest growing theatre (apparently a term used internally by Facebook to denote different market regions). While the Indian user base at 13 Million is certainly not the largest, it definitely is among the fastest growing markets. The report goes on to say that when adjusted for the Indian internet-using population , this FB user base grew from being 11 of Indian internet population in Jan 2010, to over 18 percent in June 2010. A recent Nielsen survey found that among social media users, more than 57% of respondents claimed that they started using Twitter only in the last 12 months. That means that one out of every two Twitter users signed up post August 2009. Now, think about this. About 2.1 Million smart phones were sold in India in 2009. This number is expected to double over the next 2 years. This is likely to further fastrack social media adoption.

These are amazing numbers! And the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that we are at the beginning of what seems to be a mini social media revolution in India. Call me a romantic, but I don’t recall any other web trend that we as a country embraced so early and in so much volume, as we are doing with social media – not even e-commerce.

What does all this mean to you, if you are a brand? More people will interact with your brand online. Communities will be formed and captive audiences will be created. But most of all, you will get to Listen – to uninhibited, unprompted and passionate conversations about brand experiences. And I think that is a luxury that marketers of today have – the ability to tune in to the all important consumer’s mind and to do that in close to real time.

So where are these conversations happening?

While social networking sites like Facebook and Orkut and Ibibo have become a part of prime time folklore, the most underrated social segment are the discussion forums, message boards and review sites in India.

While it is clear that we as an online market are obsessed with our films (like most of the markets in the World), it is interesting to see generic sites like Yahoo! Answers and in the top ten forums (in terms of volume of conversations). Innumerable brand-related reviews and conversations happen on these platforms everyday. Nothing brings out the importance of these forums more than the fact that 50% of consumers in India, use social media sites to help them make purchase decisions (Source: Nielsen consumer confidence survey, 2010). And online product reviews are the third biggest influencer of buying decisions (only after family and friends!). This is especially true for consumer electronics and durables, where 3 out of 4 social media users have read an expert review in the last 12 months.

What about the SN sites? Aren’t they all about teen talk?

This probably is among the most incorrect myths about the online market in India. While the average age of people on SN sites definitely does not begin with the number ‘3’, it is by no means a teen forum. In fact, a majority of ‘heavy users’ of SN in India are between 20-30 years old and the age segment that is most likely to click on an ad in a SN site is the 31-40 year olds. Having said that, if you are a ‘youth’ brand, you need not get disheartened by these numbers, as a recent research estimated that 3 out of 4 teens have become fans of at least one brand online and 60 percent of 15-20 year olds spend at least 30 minutes a day on SN sites.

As I conclude this piece, the overwhelming feeling that I get is that ‘if I were asked to write this piece a year from now, the numbers would have grown exponentially’. And I believe that voice is definitely not coming from the romantic, but the researcher in me.