Tejaswini Nanda may have been a tad late to the social networking party, but the 25-year-old Delhi tax consultant is enjoying her recent entry into Facebook.
“Because of my hectic life, I can’t keep up with friends. And this is one way to stay in touch,” she said, probably echoing the thoughts of many like her among nearly 31 million Indians who are now clued into sites such as Facebook and Google-owned Orkut, which offer contacts and friendships, or like Twitter, the microblogging site where members exchange thoughts, ideas, jokes and conversations.
These three lead the Internet social networking revolution that began in the US, but has spread like a wildfire to the point where emerging economies such as India, Russia and Brazil are driving growth of subscribers, frenetically outpacing the country of origin.
There are 1.2 billion Internet users across the world, of which more than 900 million are on social networking sites, according to industry research firm comScore.
While Facebook is undoubtedly leading the friendly wildfire trend, it still has to contend with the fact that in India, it is Orkut – hugely popular among the neo-Internet literates – that is leading the way.
Advertisers are waking up to the phenomenon, while Facebook’s “third party” linkages with merchandise and other networks is also ushering in a sales revolution.
“Just a year back there hardly was any advertising on social networking sites. But it is now fast catching on in the country. People are now realising the potential,” said Shubho Sengupta, creative head (digital) at Rediffusion Y&R.
Facebook has just announced that it is partnering with a Malaysian company to sell credits at retail outlets across Asia for the first time, aiming to make it easier for millions of people to purchase virtual goods and play games on the site while boosting revenue for application developers who linked to the site.
Payments firm MOL will offer the online currency from August at more than 500,000 outlets including 7-Eleven stores and Internet cafes in five Southeast Asian countries, India, Australia and New Zealand, spokesman Nor Badron said.
Globally, close to 73 per cent Internet users are socially networked, compared with 65 per cent a year ago. India has 38.7 million Internet users, of which 30.7 million are connected on social networks, showing a high “sociability” of India’s Netizens (see graphic).
India accounts for 35 per cent of all Orkut users across the world. Brazil accounts for over 50 per cent. Orkut is still number one in India with a 64 per cent share, but Facebook is snapping at its heels with a 58 per cent share – and its 178 per cent growth in the past year clearly jumps over Orkut’s 35 per cent.
“Looking ahead five years, we see more and more opportunities for India to have rich experiences on Facebook through an increasingly social web experience,” said Elizabeth Linder, Facebook’s spokeswoman.
To specially help India, Facebook also has a text-only mobile site that is fast and free to browse.
Digital advertising currently accounts for a mere 5 per cent of total advertising expenditure in India but is growing at around 40 per cent annually.
If social networking carries its momentum, indications are that social networking sites will gain considerable revenue opportunities.