According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India, the online market in India is expanding by approximately 5 million users per month! With a citizenry approaching 1.2 billion, the Indian market seems to be facing a future of nearly infinite internet growth, as barely 10% of all Indians are currently online, leaving the other 90% as future prospects. This online revolution seems to be as powerful in the country’s countless remote and tiny villages as it is in the major metro areas. There are more internet users in these small, dusty towns than there are in the three largest Indian cities of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkatta combined.
This virtually exponential growth has proven to be a powerful draw for the attention of Facebook’s strategists and their efforts in India have resulted in Google’s Orkut losing their prime position last year as Mr. Zuckerberg’s creation increases its market share by a stunning 85% per year. According to Facebook’s vice president for mobile partnerships and corporate development Vaughan Smith “India is our third largest market in terms of number of users… we think that India will pass first Indonesia, which should happen soon, and then the US.” Facebook is doing everything possible to establish itself as the social network of first choice throughout India. Much of Indian internet access will continue to be on mobile devices and Facebook’s recently announced collaboration with Taiwan’s MediaTek will embed access to the social network into a wide variety of very low priced smartphones targeted for the developing world. Given MediaTek’s partnership with the leading Indian mobile brands Spice and Micromax, the expansion of Facebook’s dominance over social media on the subcontinent may be unstoppable.
Young & Male
The social network is well on the way to achieving or even surpassing its currently lofty goals as it presently has nearly 40 million users and continues to boom. More than three quarters of all Indian Facebookers are between the ages of 18 and 34, a lucrative demographic segment for online marketers. Indian brands are taking full advantage of the massive number of Facebook users in the country, with the local MTV boasting almost six and a half million followers, telecom giant Tata Docomo standing at over four and a half million and Kingfisher Airlines lording over two and a half million fans. Social networking seems to be firmly ensconced as a preference of the younger generation. The older segment of the population still seems to be impervious to Facebook’s charms, as just 5% of all Indian users are over the age of 44. While Facebook’s gender distribution in most Western nations is just about evenly split, there is an enormous skew in favor of males in India, with just 28% of the social network’s users in the vast nation being female.
Serious Privacy Issues Remain
There are challenges to Facebook’s domination of the Indian online social market, and the most significant may be the country’s government. The Home Ministry has demanded to monitor Facebook posts amid fear that the social network could be used by terrorists to coordinate attacks. In adherence with India’s Information Technology Act, websites and service providers are obligated to turn over to government security agencies all information on private accounts, including passwords. This data handover does not require a court order and can be implemented solely on the determination of a Ministry official. The prospect of having their government privy to every word typed anywhere on Facebook could have a chilling effect on ordinary Indian citizens as the legislation enforced to prevent terrorism could be misused to spy on every aspect of their online lives.
With a market the size of India and the spectacular growth rates being experienced, Facebook will have to overcome the heavy hand of the country’s government in order to profit massively from its subcontinent operations. If the social network can strike a balance between government edicts and their users’ privacy issues, then Facebook should easily conquer India.