India's Internet population small, but powerful on social

With barely 10 percent Internet penetration, India has managed to create consumer class that leverages prowess of social media to fight for its rights.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

India may be a large nation of 1.1 billion people, but it's a difficult market to understand.

The Census of India numbers say literacy rate has increased from 36.4 percent in 1961 to 80.3 percent in 2011. What they don't tell you is an overwhelming majority of those 80 percent can just about manage to write their names.

The other interesting statistics is Internet penetration--it is only 10.2 percent today. Therefore, 9 out of 10 Indians probably have no idea what the Web is all about.

Given these statistics, I sometimes wonder why companies are so scared of social media. Let me explain this. Every time I have had a problem with a company, I have found recourse in the social media more than anything else.

The Indian consumer has little rights, unlike her peers in the West. Class action suits can't be filed here. And going to a consumer court is a cumbersome process. You may keep calling the company's call center, but your calls fall on deaf ears--literally.

For instance, for months we had been trying to reach out to a telecom company because it had put up a huge junction box right outside our house, adding to everyone's parking woes. We called up the company several times, went up to the company's offices and even sent several e-mail--nothing happened. Until, one day, our grievance went up on Twitter, with a hashtag (of the company's name). Within a fortnight, the problem was solved.

I faced a similar experience when my water purifier was giving trouble. A bad word on the company's Facebook page, and pat came the apology!

Here, let me take you back to the statistics I mentioned in the beginning of this blog post--when the majority of India does not even know what the Internet is all about, why are companies so scared of the social media? After all, it's a very small segment of the Indian population that actually has access to this medium.

Well, that's where the answer lies--it's a small segment, but a rather powerful one. It has the deepest pockets, it is most social-aware, and its opinion matters--this consumer class can make or break a company.

In the 1990s, several MNCs had overestimated the Indian market and had to rework their strategy for India. Twenty years on, not too much seems to have changed, barring the purchasing power of the middle class. And of course, the fact that the educated class now has an important weapon in its hands that can make or break its reputation--the social media. 


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