More Indians are logging onto Facebook via cell phone as affordable mobile data plans spread throughout the subcontinent, to the benefit of both corporations and the country’s citizens.
India could be Facebook’s largest market next year with over 50 million registered users, a marked leap from today’s third place at 32 million. If the social network can effectively target the 350 million-plus Indian children set to go online in several years, it may make billions in mobile advertising dollars.
“There’s a mob out there,” said Tarun Abhichandani, group business director at IMRB International, which is part of the world’s largest ad agency WPP Group. “India has a young demographic, and it’s social networking that brings them online.”
Advertisers are taking notice of India’s skyrocketing Facebook use and starting to capitalize on this trend. Pepsi and Viacom’s MTV contributed to the $223 million in ad revenues this year, a number set to grow as more people log into the social network.
“The shift to online advertising is just starting to happen,” Abhichandani said. “The number of Internet users here is on the rise and is going to keep rising for some time. Advertisers are realizing that.”
Facebook and its advertisers’ rapid growth in India dovetail with an equally rapid spike in mobile handset sales. The country is forecast to reach 206 million units sold per year by 2014, an astronomical number that isn’t unsurprising, given that India is the world’s second-fastest growing major economy.
Not only are they buying a lot of handsets, Indians are purchasing them for relatively low prices. Data plans run around $23 per month, and although many use Wi-Fi rather than 3G, they are still able to stream live music and videos, Skype chat and play HD games on their smartphones. Even feature phones often include browsing capabilities, enabling even the poorest to surf the Web.
Though such growth has so far increased Facebook’s subscribers and advertising dollars, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company may face competition in the Indian market from rival Google. Google’s new Google+ social venture is also growing fast, even beating Facebook and Twitter by attracting over 25 million users in under one month. Just under 4 million were Indians, a significant number that may give Facebook a run for its money.
Of course, Google’s latest social networking experiment may yet go the way of Orkut, its once popular hangout spot that now languishes in disrepair.
Whichever social network dominates, however, Indians now have a significant spot in the mobile market that will likely influence future business ventures there.