By Claire Charron, Manager, Global Insights & Planning; Radhika Nihalani, Insights & Planning Intern; Ronak Sheth, Insights & Planning Intern; and Evann Clingan, Senior Insights Analyst at 360i.
As India experiences a rapid growth in its middle class, a burgeoning youth population and an explosion of Internet and mobile adoption, its social media landscape is quickly expanding. While urban Indians are becoming increasingly globalized, they still maintain their traditional Indian roots and values, leading to a unique cultural mix of the West and the East. This cultural blend is mirrored in their presence on social platforms.
This whitepaper explores the role of culture when it comes to how, where and with what purpose people in India engage on Twitter, and how their engagement compares to other markets. These findings can be used as an indication of Indian consumers’ engagement on social media overall, and offer important implications for marketers targeting Indian consumers on Twitter. The findings in this report come from 360i’s Insights & Planning group, and this study is part of a larger series that compares Twitter usage in the U.S., U.K, Brazil and South Korea.
Indians use Twitter to find a sense of community online and to meet like-minded people who share their interests. Twitter is regarded as an open medium to interact with a world of strangers. Indian Twitter users generally feel comfortable following and conversing with people they do not know if they believe they can form a meaningful connection or discuss their passions and opinions with them.
Twitter users in India view the platform as a news aggregator and content curation tool. This group uses the Twitter timeline to stay abreast of news and believes that Twitter is the fastest way to access this information. They also find the RSS feed-like interface convenient for reading news in real-time. Indians follow trusted news sources, influencers and thought leaders on Twitter, and rely on them for frequent updates on their respective areas of interest.
People in India do not often offer strong opinions about companies, but still enjoy engaging with companies on Twitter. Indians are motivated to stay up-to-date on their favorite brands and products, but do not often express their feelings about them online. Instead, they tend to use Twitter as a customer service tool to converse with brands and talk about offers, discounts, critiques and service standards. Contests are of particular interest to Indian consumers on Twitter.
Indians use Twitter when they need to break the monotony of a typical workday. They use free time at work to catch up on what’s happening in the world, and to see what their followers and friends are posting. Currently, users tweet from smartphones, desktops, laptops, and tablets. Smartphone users are the most active segment since they can tweet at their convenience or while on-the-go.
Indians use Twitter to find a sense of community online and to meet like-minded people who share their interests
India is a society that is collectivistic in nature, and Indians have a strong preference for belonging to a larger social framework (Indian Journal of Psychiatry “Indian family systems, collectivistic society and psychotherapy,” 2013). This behavior is reflected in their usage of Twitter. While individuals of other countries tweet largely to update their status, this “me” culture is not congruous with Indians. They instead share and seek opinions from peers to feel like they are part of a community. Indians join Twitter to communicate with their existing networks and to form new friendships with people who share their interests. In line with sharing opinions and advice, 35 percent of tweets from Indian users are conversations and contain at least one @ mention of another twitter user.
Indians do not hesitate to engage with strangers. They often mention people they don’t know personally if they would like to share opinions with them or forge a lasting relationship. Indian Twitter users find it important to be connected with any individuals who are influential or in-the-know. The average number of followers (16,430) and following (3,046) for an Indian Twitter profile is nine times and four times higher, respectively, as compared to the average user profile in other markets. Indians cite following celebrities, public figures, business people, thought leaders and role models as extremely valuable to their Twitter experiences.
Many users in India are mindful of increasing their followers because it is a symbol of their social clout and reach. To get noticed, they often use a hashtag (#) to appear in searches, or participate in trending topics with the hope of getting acknowledged by people and gaining more followers. The amount of retweets is also considered as a symbol of validation and acceptance, and is highly valued by this community-centric society.
What this means for marketers: To most effectively reach Indian audiences on Twitter, brands should consider partnering with influencers specific to their industries. Rather than being talked to by brands, Indians prefer conversing with knowledgeable figures who can lead discussions around the brand or product. Following individuals that fit the brand’s target consumer is a great first step for brands. Knowing that the brand values their opinions increases the chances of them following the brand back and engaging with them. Participating in trending topics or even inventing a new trending topic can help establish brands within the Indian Twitter community as “in-the-know” and worth a follow. Since Indian Twitter users often judge other users by who they follow, brands should consider providing content that will make their followers be seen as influential, in-the-know members of the community by default.
Twitter is seen as a platform for news aggregation and curation by Indians
In India, 12 percent of all content that is tweeted contains a link to a news article, which is considerably higher than the other countries we studied in this series (U.S., U.K., Brazil and South Korea). Indian Twitter users strongly believe that their timelines, with user friendly RSS feed-like interfaces, are the easiest way to access world news. A combination of influencers, including celebrities, business people, sports stars, politicians and bloggers along with trusted news sources from around the world like CNN, The Times of India and NDTV, all play important roles when it comes to keeping Indians informed. Users consider the platform to be a medium where news breaks, spreads quickly and transmits in many directions.
As compared to TV channels or newspapers, Twitter is the preferred method for accessing news as Indian users can start conversations and seek opinions from others within the platform, igniting conversations on subjects of particular interest to them. Users cite current affairs and world events as the biggest motivators to post on Twitter and start a social commentary. This is where Twitter’s added advantage lies and what makes it trump other social platforms.
People in India don’t offer strong opinions about brands, but still enjoy engaging with companies on Twitter
India has the highest amount of brand mentions when compared to the other countries studied in this series. Yet, very little of this brand content is opinionated. The primary reason Indians mention brands is to share news about the brand. And these mentions are inherently neutral in sentiment. Twitter users share news organically, in addition to simply posting links to news articles, which conveys to followers that they are in-the-know about influential brands. Tech brands, including Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Foursquare, Hotmail and Blackberry garner the most conversation on Twitter. Since technology is a growing sector in India, being knowledgeable about this industry in particular is important to Indians and helps them feel socially accepted among working professionals.
Aside from staying informed on the happenings in the tech industry, users look to brands on Twitter — especially those in the telecommunications, automotive and retail industries — for resolving customer service queries and complaints. Users tend to carry conversations with brands about offers, discounts, critiques and service standards, and judge their promptness and helpfulness as a metric of service quality.
Users also believe that Twitter has made brands more accountable for claims and endorsements, and are very motivated to engage with brands during contests or promotions to get freebies.
What this means for marketers: The Indian consumer does not often express emotions and opinions about brands on Twitter, and thus the online conversation may not be an accurate measure of brand sentiment. Of course, this does not imply that Indians lack emotional connections to brands and products altogether; they simply do not express them as outwardly in social media. In India, Twitter can be viewed by brands as a powerful tool for understanding and discussing consumer experiences, and for understanding patterns of use and purchase. However, while interacting with consumers, instead of giving them formulaic responses, brands should take personalized, timely approaches, and reply utilizing a unique and entertaining tone-of-voice. Brands should also engage users in contests and giveaways and reward them with the privilege of viewing their programs, schemes and promotions before other consumers. In this way, brands can build authentic loyal communities on Twitter and encourage them to share opinions and emotions in a manner that is atypical of their current behavior.
Indians use Twitter when they need to break the monotony of the typical workday
The time of day when Twitter usage in India spikes is sporadic — with heightened use in the morning before work, in the afternoon during lunch, in the evening after the workday is over and post-dinner when users are winding down before bedtime. The time Indians spend on Twitter in the morning is used to jumpstart the day with the latest news, and in the evening, this group uses Twitter to recap the day and check out what has been trending. Twitter users access the platform for a respite from their humdrum daily routine. Users also tweet actively and passively during different times: they browse their timelines on smartphones throughout the day, but actively participate and engage in conversations with others in the evening hours.
Indian Twitter users utilize different devices during various times of the day. In the office, they read and share updates via laptops or desktops, multitasking while completing other work-related tasks. While commuting to and from work in the morning and evening, users prefer smartphones due to their convenience and mobility. Tablets are also used while tweeting from home. Overall, smartphone users are the most active throughout the day, and tweet most often when they have some downtime while commuting or waiting in line.
Out of the current 160 million Internet users in India, 86 million users access the Internet through their feature phones and smartphones, which is in line with the 54 percent of Twitter conversations stemming from a mobile device. Nielsen has named India as the “world’s fastest growing smartphone market,” with smartphone shipments growing 150 percent year-over-year. As the number of smartphones in India continues to rise, we can expect to see the number of tweets from mobile users proliferate.
What this means for marketers: Even though Indians use Twitter as a distraction from their workdays, they still want to be engaged in meaningful conversation and not just be simply entertained during their breaks. To engage Indian Twitter users, marketers should strive to reach them during their most active windows of the day: in the morning before work or in the afternoon after work. Consumers are likely to be open to responding and providing opinions in the morning because they are fresh and have an open mind. In the evenings, brands should focus more on updates to generate interest after a busy work day.
As smartphones are rapidly becoming more widely adopted, brands should engage consumers with mediums more friendly to phones — such as images and videos. Since smartphone users look to Twitter to pass the time while commuting and waiting, using mobile and location-based advertising should also be considered.
Twitter has become an integral part of the digitally-connected Indian population, in the ways it helps users communicate, hold views and forge relationships. It is taken more seriously than any other social platform, and regarded as an agent of ideas and social commentary. To build a connection with Indian consumers, it is crucial for brands to reach and impress them on Twitter. In doing so, brands should be mindful of their audience’s cultural context, and customize what they share to appeal to this group’s desire for informative content, for reaching influencers and for finding a sense of community online.
Today, most brands have a largely segmented and hyper-localized social approach. However, as marketers begin to move towards a more global social marketing model to create a consistent brand presence and strengthen brand equity, they can’t ignore the impact of culture not only on how people perceive a brand, but also how they will relate to it in social.
This data comes from 360i’s research and analysis conducted from January 2014 to April 2014 on Twitter conversations spanning 31st March, 2013 — 30th September, 2013. A random sample of 200 posts was collected and analyzed from public Twitter profiles.
This random sample was not targeted to subject matter. Data was vetted and cleaned to ensure tweets were coming from relevant users, and then analyzed for behavioral trends among English speaking Twitter users in India. Top-line metrics and categories were analyzed out of the 200-post sample, and time of day was analyzed on a larger sample of 10,000 posts per market.
360i then conducted online research communities with 20 Twitter users to understand motivations driving specific online behaviors among users.