Does Facebook have competition in India?

Mark Zuckerberg is on a much publicised visit to India this week, which begs the question – are Indian users adopting other social networks away from Facebook? While no one disputes the sheer size and impact of Facebook in India, there are signals of brand adoption of other social channels.

In January 2014, Ford India used Instagram, along with Facebook and Twitter to launch a contest to highlight Ford, using the hashtag #FordAE2014, ahead of the Auto Expo.

While the campaign, according to Social Samosa, did not get too much of a response, it was a sign that brands in India are stepping out of their comfort zone and going beyond Facebook and Twitter.

Venkat Mallik, president, RAPP India, says that, “We have been using Pinterest for a leading shoe brand to showcase new and emerging styles. Youtube for various leading brands including a quick service restaurant chain, food brand, diaper brand and technology brand. And Linkedin for a leading technology brand and an engineering solutions brand.“

However, Suveer Bajaj, co-founder, FoxyMoron, believes that in India, “Smaller networks like Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are tiny from a community size perspective and have little social effect. The mode of uploads on such small platforms are also very restrictive, as on Instagram you can only upload images or videos whereas Facebook has no limitations to the type of content one can upload. Therefore it serves to be the most used network.”

Suveer adds that, “By virtue of the fact that Indians are so glued to Facebook its penetration has come to second and third screens in a robust manner, it leaves no time and mind space for its competitors.”

Tinu Cherian Abraham, digital and social media global lead of an IT services company, says “Social Networks, for Indians, is where their friends and relatives are. That is why newer entrants don’t make such a sudden impact in India. But then, if the current social networking sites don’t evolve and mature with the changing times, people will get bored and move away. That is why people left Orkut, once so popular in India, and moved to Facebook and Twitter but it is difficult to predict who will super cede them. The very idea of Facebook was never unique, as Myspace, Hi5 and Orkut shows, but it initially captured the imagination and attention for its sheer simplicity during the initial years. So far, I don't see any networks worthy of over taking them. But you never know, what is in store.”

But, Yu Yu Din, head digital strategist, Genesis Burson-Marsteller, says users are turning to sites other than Facebook, “People are adopting other social networks besides Facebook in India – we might not see it blatantly or talk about it but social media users are as trendy in India as the rest of the world. You might think people are not moving elsewhere because there isn’t a lot of buzz but if you do a deep dive in numbers, you will see that India is actually a big mover and shaker. Take for example, Quora – a Q&A website where the community maintains which answers get to be on the top – gets more than 33% traffic from India.”

Venkat believes that, “People in India have adopted Linkedin and WhatsApp and fairly widely at that. A lot of people have also made WhatsApp their primary social network rather than Facebook.”

Venkat points out that, “Additionally, internet adoption in India may be high on reach but the usage frequency is probably still building up, unlike in some of the other countries. Therefore we may see a greater adoption of specialist social networks as the frequency and depth of usage builds out.”

The future: Twitter, Instagram, Slideshare, Quora, Tumblr, Vine, IM apps, Secret, Hyperlapse

Venkat feels that in India, “Social networks which are highly mobile friendly and have utility on the go will have a tendency to win the game. WhatsApp is already showing us the way here. Additionally, I think that given the societal changes that India is going through – dating sites should see boom times ahead. We will also see social networks built around the eternal Indian favourites – astrology, Bollywood, and cricket thriving.”

Dating app Woo was just launched this month for India.

Stephen Waddington, director, Ketchum Europe and president, CIPR says the data suggests that Facebook and Twitter aren't going to do anything but continue to grow.

The reason for this, Stephen explains, is the fact that, “Both innovate to engage existing and new users across all platforms.”

Looking at other platforms, Stephen says that, “LinkedIn has become increasingly assertive and is positioning itself as a content platform. Google+ hasn't really achieved the engagement originally expected. Hangouts and communities are its biggest opportunities.”

Two emergent forms of social media according to Stephen are, “First, content platforms, such as Hyper Lapse, Instagram and Vine, which enable brands to tell their stories. Second, messaging apps such a Line and WhatsApp are the next wave of social media. Brands are still figuring out how they can use them for consumer engagement.”

Sushmita Bandopadhyay, communications and identity advisor, BD India agrees that IMs have become popular because, “Privacy is very important and messaging apps like HIKE and WhatsApp allows seclusion in closed groups. Such apps enable you to be in ‘constant touch’ with the ones you like hanging out with. Going forward it will be a period of closed group networking much like our offline ‘strictly by invitation’ engagements.”

Tanay Chaturvedi, manager of marketing, Nimbuzz, says that, “The greatest buzz in the social network space is that of ‘Anonymity.’ The newer social platforms are being designed to garner anonymous interactions. Purely anonymous platforms such as Secret and Whisper have seen much success in India and across the world. We are also witnessing a comeback of the ‘chat room’ era. Platforms that connect users without sharing identities are also seeing great platform engagement.”

Yu Yu din believes there is clear evidence of growing adoption of not social networks, but specific sites. She therefore recommends keeping an eye on sites that are coming up with a lot of traffic from India, “For example, if you’re a digital marketer, you should keep an eye on sites such as Quora, Tumblr, SlideShare, Instagram, and Pinterest to see how you can build your content strategy with them. Alexa ranks Tumblr as 42 in the most popular sites from India – comScore in its 2013 report saw the site’s traffic grow by 180% between 2012 and 2013. Pinterest grew by 589% in the same period.”

Should brands invest in their own social networks?

Venkat says that, “There is a case for brands to invest in their own 'social communities' rather than their own social networks. These communities could be built on brand owned platforms rather than on Facebook since the brand might be able to control the destiny of the community a bit better. This is the emerging thinking among brand owners because social networks have been changing algorithms and guidelines – pushing brands to pay more and more to reach the communities they have built on these networks. The content that is posted on these social networks is also difficult for brands to claim as their own.”

Stephen says that, “This depends on their audience, and how it expects to engage with the brand. That may be a Facebook or LinkedIn page but it could equally be an owned community. If brands develop their communities on a third party platform they need to think carefully about how they maintain a relationship with their audience if the platform evolves its services or terms of use. Ultimately I’d always recommend that brands need to have a direct relationship with their consumers and to own their data.”

For Yu Yu, the answer is an unequivocal, “No. Many brands want to ‘keep all the data’ and users with themselves but my advice to all of them have been that it is not worth the effort. Why reinvent the wheel if there are perfectly good social networks that are out there to use? What marketers should really be doing is figuring out how to nurture their own brand communities on social networks, figuring out how to truly reward their hard core fans, and engaging with them the way they want to be engaged.”

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