Asiya Bakht
Mar 31, 2010

Twitter spreads its wings in India

With an estimated two million users, Twitter in India now has the third highest number of active users after the US and Germany.

Twitter spreads its wings in India
The potential for Twitter in India is huge. In October last year it struck a partnership with Bharti Airtel, the largest mobile operator in India, which has 110 million subscribers. The telco’s subscribers can now send tweets at standard rates and receive tweets for free. As the mobile services pick up, Twitter could garner an even larger number of users.

The rising popularity of Twitter is being driven by Bollywood, with many movie stars embracing Twitter as a new way of reaching their fans. The most active celebrities include Gul Panag, Piyanka Chopra, Karan Johar and Malika Sherawat. India’s biggest star, Shahrukh Khan, has more than 200,000 followers. And while Twitter has become a big tool for movie marketing, politicians, media personalities and even companies are also using it to great effect.

Prasanna Kulkarni, senior creative director of digital at OgilvyOne Worldwide, India, says brands are now using Twitter frequently as a messaging channel to potential and existing customers, flagging up customer care, promotions, new product details and contests. “ICICI Bank is the most conversational brand on Twitter and is primarily using it for responding to queries from both current and prospective customers, while MTV India is the most followed brand.”

Sudhir Nair, vice-president, G2 direct and digital South Asia, thinks that certain categories have been using Twitter better than others in India. “I think that media and entertainment companies, technology companies and travel and aviation companies have been using Twitter more than others .”

But Sandeep Goyal, chairman of Dentsu India, says there is still very little real understanding of the social media space, among both agencies and clients. “Currently, presence is more important than relevance,” he says. “Just being present on Facebook or Twitter carries ‘badge value’ - the ‘we too are on Twitter’ idea. It has both a ‘feel-good’ dimension, as well as a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ pressure vis-à-vis peer brands.”

According to Goyal, if Twitter or Facebook were to charge advertisers for using their logo, 90 per cent of advertisers “would just run away” as “it is free and it is fashionable, and everybody is doing it.”

Whether Twitter or more established networks such as Facebook (eight million users) and Orkut (16 million)lead the way, social media unquestionably has huge potential in India. Twitter’s CEO Evan Williams recently announced expansion plans for the micro-blogging site in India, which included the launch of localised services. Facebook has also announced plans to set up operations in India.

“Twitter can grow exponentially in India as it allows users to tweet through SMS texts from mobile,” says Venke Sharma, senior VP & director, Arc Worldwide. “Mobile penetration in India is much higher than internet penetration. By not depending on mobile web or GPRS, Twitter is enabling people to connect and get updated.”

Got a view?
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This article was originally published in the 25 March 2010 issue of Media.

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