Last year saw the biggest ever trade delegation from the UK to India, as British businesses seek to capitalise on the growing Indian business market.

According to reports, the UK invests almost £9bn in India. In turn, India invests around £800m in the UK (almost double what it invests in the rest of Europe).

As a result of this booming economy, India’s digital market is growing fast. Currently, around 121m of India’s 1.2 billion people are online – a relatively small number proportionately, but 2012 is set for an explosion in internet growth, driven mostly by mobile.

India has a reported 700m mobile subscribers, with around 200,000 being added each day (many in rural areas).

The opportunity for social brands to capitalise on this boom is huge, if they get it right.

There are 50+ m active social media users in India, and they spend more time on social media than anywhere else. As elsewhere in the world, Facebook is the dominant social network.

The Indian Economic Times reports that Facebook in India has around 38m users (40% of whom access the site via a mobile phone), although SocialBakers puts this figure at nearer 50m. Orkut, the Google-owned network, has around 18 million users (mostly in non-urban areas), and LinkedIn just short of 11m.

Then there are significant numbers on India’s own social networking sites: most notably Ibibo, with 12 million users; and BharatStudent with 7 million users.

What does this mean if you’re developing a campaign in India?   

Think mobile

In an interview with The Indian Economic Times, Hari Krishnan, LinkedIn’s business head in India, says that mobile use changes a LinkedIn user’s behaviour, focusing on “four key areas: user profiles, status updates, groups and the inbox”.

Likewise, if your Facebook or Orkut campaign is going to be accessed mostly via mobile (or tablet), think carefully about its design, layout and messaging.

Think beyond Facebook

While Facebook is taking the lion’s share of social activity (and growing fast), there’s still at the moment a huge opportunity to reach audiences on networks like Orkut, Ibibo and BharatStudent. 

In such a diverse market, use locally relevant cultural references

Search online for the most innovative social campaigns in India, and one name crops up again and again: the Indian Food League campaign by Hippo. It’s a simple campaign which pits regional dishes against each other, and encourages users to comment on a virtual chalk board showing the day’s menu.

It all ties into the cricket season; the idea being that friends and families eat together as they watch the cricket together. It has a very specific regional appeal, and uses Twitter and Facebook as well as the hub of the campaign, a microsite for user generated content.

MTV’s ‘Nano Drive’ – a social streaming reality show which shows four teams driving across the country for three weeks. The contestants compete for social engagement, by blogging, taking photos and videos that are shared on social platforms, and tweeting; the winner is the team who gets the highest engagement (likes, retweets etc). The winning team will each win a Tata Nano.

Think multi-language 

The Economist estimates that 438 official ‘mother tongue’ languages are spoken in India (the unofficial number varies hugely). The most widely spoken is Hindi.

Google launched its Translator in Hindi in 2007, and its Hindi portal in 2009, and now offers search in eight other Indian languages including Punjabi and Bengali; in September 2011, Twitter launched its Twitter portal in Hindi; and Facebook is available in eight Indian languages on mobile.