Amy Lennox, partner, Trinity Communications
Last year I spent two weeks in India with the British Council meeting entrepreneurs in the communications industry. The tour elicited as many and varied conversations about social media as I have here in the UK.
I found definite similarities between the two countries. Advertisers in both have the same appetite for social media, are experimenting and making mistakes. There’s comparable debate over who’s best placed to deliver social media activity. There’s the same passion for getting the strategy and the content right. However, agencies also receive briefs like ‘Can you do me a Facebook profile?’. They also face the same dilemma in justifying the cost of social media versus the return.
While the similarities are reassuring, it was the differences I found more interesting. In India, the biggest network isn’t Facebook but Orkut. Owned by Google, it has 15m users in India. Facebook has 30% penetration of UK adults whereas in India it’s used by less than 0.01% of the population, although that is 10m users. Unlike the mainstream nature of social media platforms in the UK, in India it’s only the educated, upwardly mobile youth getting involved. Therefore, you’re more likely to see early adopter, contributory behaviour from an Indian than a Brit. If you’re targeting young professionals, there’s limited wastage on social media platforms. There’s certainly no silver surfer movement.
Social activism was a recurring theme among the entrepreneurs I met, not least in social media, where it has hit the headlines. Political parties such as Shiv Sena, an inflammatory conservative group, have provoked the police to pursue and arrest people for forming anti-Shiv Sena groups on Orkut. We saw it as Facebook’s responsibility to deal with BNP online rallying; Shiv Sena got the police involved.
Ironically, social media has enabled people to act against repressive actions. The famous Pink Chaddi campaign, started in response to a Shiv Sena attack on some young women drinking openly in a bar, galvanised women to send pink underwear to the party leader, which caused great embarrassment and ultimately stopped them taking further action.
The social media experts I met were academic, internationally experienced and rather awe-inspiring. But where I think we’ll really learn from India is in mobile. When 3G mobile hits India around 2012, entrepreneurs will undoubtedly be pioneering technology to get the country’s 472m mobile phone users to use social media platforms. They’ll monitor the West’s mistakes closely and will overtake us very quickly.