Monday, December 12, 2011

The Hype and Reality of Indian Social Media

In our meeting with some of our clients we have come across the idea that Indian social media is more hype than substance. In this blog I intend to take a closer look at the matter.

The Hype
The ability of social media to influence people has been the key factor in its massive adoption by the marketing industry. Marketers job is to influence people so that his/her product is seen as desirable or essential by the target audience. It was the Midas touch that every marketer dreamed to have.

 As of now, more than half of the US population (above 12 years) have an active Facebook account. Celebrities on Twitter have the following that exceeds the populations of certain countries. Viral videos on Youtube reach more eyeballs than a million dollar advertisement campaign. It is a scale that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. This was a paradigm shift in marketing, the old methods did not work anymore, the old masters became obsolete.  The new champions of the trade were yet to be found and whoever wins the spot had a lot to gain. What followed was a propaganda war, a blitzkrieg, every new social media guru was or still is trying to outwit the other by projecting the pros of social media marketing. The interest and exceptions on social media began to increase and eventually lead to over-enthusiasm or hype.

Hype is not a new phenomenon, in fact, Gartner had coined the word "hype cycle" to explain how products go through the hype and reach maturity. Social media will also have to tread the same path to reach maturity.

In India, I believe, the hype came in first and then came the social media adoption. The hype from the US spilled over to India and caught the imagination of the marketing fraternity. At that time Indians were adopting Orkut, which had different engagement semantics than Facebook or Twitter. The hype was based on Facebook and Twitter but the consumers were on Orkut.

The Reality

Social media is beginning to make its presence felt in India now but it is not as big as it is in the US. As of now, there are more than 38 million Indians on social networks and that was growing at the rate 160% year on year for the last couple of years. There are around 100 million Indians on the internet making it the 4th largest in the world. Roughly 38% of Indian internet users are on social media now. Still, I think it is early years, there is a long way to go.

India has a population of 1.2 billion, this means that our Internet penetration is about 8% and social network penetration is just 3%.  The social media penetration would be slightly better than 3%  as we have to factor in the use of blogs, video sharing sites, photo sharing etc. This is the reality now and we have to face it. It would be foolish to expect social media to give an ROI that is comparable to the ROI one hopes to get in the US.  It is a going to be a long haul, we need to set the expectation right and show the patients to play it out.  Think of social media marketing in the US as a one-day cricket match while in Indian context it would be a test match and the traditional marketing is more of a twenty 20 match anywhere in the world.

By saying all this I am not suggesting that Indian businesses should not do social media. It all depends on the target market you are addressing, if you are looking to sell a product where a customer is required to have internet then your entire target audience comes inside social media. And in contrary, if your product is targeting people in the low-income group you may not find much customer on social media. 

If you are in social media now, think of yourselves as early birds and set your expectations in line with the reality. To think that having a facebook page or a twitter id or youtube channel or a blog or any combination of them is going to drive prospects your way in a short span of time is setting oneself up for a huge disappointment. This might also prevent you from adopting social media altogether and that way you would be depriving yourself of a great cost-effective tool for customer engagement.

Looking ahead, social media has a great future. Initiatives like Aakash Tablet, innovations in smartphone technologies, 3G, Wi-fi etc are going to bring more and more Indians on the Internet. The mobile penetration in India is a mind-boggling 71% and this might be decisive in getting the majority of India on the internet and social media. Once there is sizable Indian population gets on social media, businesses will have to do social media and do it well, there will not be other options. That is the future.

The Bottom line
Businesses should realize that social media presence is a marketing STRATEGY, not a tactic. It is a young medium that is very cost effective and that it would reap rich rewards in long term. Last but not the least, social media marketing is not for free, it involves various tools, experts and a total belief and dedication.