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The Future of Facebook Is in India

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By Peter Savodnik

By 2015, India will have more Facebook (FB) users than any other country on Earth—tilting the social networking action away from the West and toward one of the fastest-growing emerging markets on the planet.

As of right now, India has close to 46,307,580 Facebook users, according to Socialbakers, a social media analytics firm in London. This makes India the third-biggest Facebook market, behind the U.S., now at 156,830,580 users, and Brazil, with 48,041,640.

According to Eleanor Armitage, a Socialbakers spokeswoman, the number of Indian Facebook users is growing 22 percent every six months, meaning that India will edge out the U.S. toward the end of 2014, when both countries are expected to have 170 million to 175 million members.

Prasant Naidu, who blogs about social networking in India at LighthouseInsights, attributes Facebook’s explosive growth in the subcontinent to its huge, mostly untapped market. (India has more than 1.2 billion people, and Facebook users constitute less than 4 percent of the population, compared with 51 percent in the U.S.)

Also, Facebook has aggressively targeted younger people. Says Cara Pring, a social media blogger in Sydney: “While it’s common to see a slight overrepresentation of younger age groups (i.e., 18 to 34) on social media channels, in India this group represents a huge 76 percent of all Facebook users. It’s clear that this age group is driving the social media revolution within the country.”

In 2010, Facebook opened an office in Hyderabad, India’s high-tech hub. Naidu says this has helped the company market to advertisers and forge agreements with cell-phone service providers—important in a country where most Facebook users log on via hand-held devices. (Facebook India did not reply to several messages.)

Pring adds that Indians view social networking differently than Americans do. Indians, she says, “want to use social networking in the real, true sense of the term—to grow their network in a social manner using whatever platforms are available to them. That doesn’t mean just the people they know. They are eager to connect with anyone they find interesting or that has something in common anywhere around the world. This is also why Twitter has exploded in India, because approval isn’t required to follow someone on the network.”

Of course, it’s unclear how long Facebook will remain the dominant social networking site on the planet—or if something newer, faster, better than social networking will replace social networking altogether. Facebook’s unimpressive IPO earlier this month has raised questions about its long-term marketability. And in many countries where Facebook’s penetration rate is at or above the 50 percent mark—the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, and Taiwan, among others—Facebook is growing very slowly and, in some cases, shedding users.

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