Facebook Adoption in India

Facebook has come a long way since it’s inception back in 2004. Something which started as a Social Networking Service restricted to only Harvard students in US has become the most actively used social media & networking phenomenon all across the world. It has grown not only as a social network but also has become the most important asset for social marketers.

Currently the no. of monthly active users of Facebook is reaching close to 2 billion and 84% of those are outside US. Facebook entered India in the year 2007 and within these 10 years India has become home to the largest no. of Facebook users in the world. Currently there are close to 195 million monthly active users in India and 90% of them use Facebook on their mobile phones.

Innovators & Early Adopters

When Facebook was launched in India in 2007, majority of the audience using Facebook was the students community who had access to computers and internet at home. It all trickled down from their friends in United States who sent them invites in India to check out this new thing. The ones in India who got invites sent it to their batch mates in India. This included the 15 to 25 years of age group. During that period, Orkut was the most widely used social network. Facebook was something which had a cleaner user interface and better privacy features. As more and more teenagers lapped up Facebook and news about how it was better than Orkut, people from the 25 to 35 age group also signed up on Facebook.

Facebook vs Orkut

Orkut was the social networking darling of India until 2008. Facebook came in as something different. It had a better and cleaner UI. The striking difference between Orkut and Facebook was the privacy settings. You could not access a person’s profile unless he was your friend on Facebook whereas in Orkut you could check out a stranger’s entire profile. On Facebook you could invite a friend to try out an app as well as play games. Multiplayer games like Farmville and Mafia Wars used to keep everyone hooked for hours on a stretch. You could upload photos on Facebook and tag your friends. Your friends could comment on the same photo and you could start a conversation. Orkut allowed you to upload photos but no tags and no comments. Plus, one did not need to go digging into Orkut communities to find content, you could read all the social happenings in your news feed from your Facebook home screen. Another killer point was the chat option. To have a chat on Orkut, one had to download the Google Chat seperately and then you had to move back and forth between chat and Orkut to access both simultaneously. It was not on the same screen. In case people did not want to go through all of that hassle then they used a Scrapbook feature to communicate. All of these ‘scraps’ were public on Orkut and anyone could read it. This is where Facebook took the competition away from Orkut. The chat was seamlessly integrated with the website. I can tell you there was a time when me and my friends would chat on Facebook all day and all night. Everyone was hooked to their computers, now it was time to take it further.

From Computers to Mobiles

3G services started rolling out to public around the year 2010. By the time 3G became affordable to general public, it took another 2 years. But in the meanwhile 2G services had improved. More and more people had internet enabled phones. The smartphone revolution had not started but people could use internet for news and basic web surfing. Facebook saw an opportunity here. Every phone with internet access had a Facebook app and later came the messenger also. So, something which you left on the computer at home could be accessed on the move. With time Chinese manufacturers brought in cheaper smartphones to India. 3G became more affordable. Now the general public could access Facebook on their smartphones in an uncompromising manner.

Crossing the Chasm

For every product it needs to clear a chasm from the early adopters to the early majority so that the product becomes acceptable to even the general people. It no longer remains a niche product and becomes standard. Facebook also had to cross this chasm. In order to do this, they focused on making it accessible to everyone. The nation was hooked to Facebook, everyone wanted to try it but since it was a US product it was only accessible in English. In order to break into the local crowd, Facebook introduced it’s website in regional languages. Internet penetration in India remains poor and in some regions even when internet is present it is not near to a high bandwidth. Facebook overcame this challenge by introducing the Facebook Lite version which could work smoothly even on 2G networks. Also, Facebook was now no longer only connecting people, it was also helping companies reach newer audiences. Businesses could now create their Facebook page and list their services and details. Pages were also used to dispense news, address complaints, solve issues and provide other information to the general public. The social network had become social media. Now one could also share links on facebook, people could read the article within the browser of the app and return back to the his social news feed.

Challenges along the Way

Facebook has had to face a string of civil and criminal court battles related to censorship of “objectionable content”. The Indian government expects Facebook to censor items such as criticism of government officials or inflammatory religious photographs. In a nation with many violent separatists and/or religious extremists, content is a valid concern for many leaders and citizens and from their point of view, things could get dangerous. Last year Facebook had proposed the Free Basics initiative in collaboration with Reliance Communications to provide affordable access to selected internet services in developing countries like India. This move was shot down by TRAI on the grounds on net-neutrality as it would help Facebook establish a larger foothold in the country while disadvantaging rivals like Google and Twitter.

The Future Ahead

Facebook has started a new concept called ‘Facebook at Work’ which lets you create a work account that is separate from your personal Facebook account and provides you with tools to interact with coworkers. Posts made on ‘Facebook at Work’ will only be visible to other people in their company. It has also started with a Work Chat App to coordinate with your coworkers. Facebook has already started on-boarding companies in India onto their ‘Facebook at Work’ platform. In the future we will see Facebook acquire more companies to increase it’s umbrella of social apps which already include super success stories like WhatsApp and Instagram. Facebook is already working on transforming it’s Messenger app into a Digital Assistant. That would definitely something Facebook is seriously looking upto in the near future. In coming years we could see Facebook having tighter integration with businesses. My guess is Facebook may tie up with eCommerce websites so that customers can buy their products directly with one click without leaving the Facebook website. A time when we could buy clothes and order food with one click without leaving the Facebook App is not so distant.