When Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg next Sunday, a third of the world’s population will be represented at the social networking giant’s swanky new headquarters in Menlo Park. And that also explains why the two need each other.
For Facebook, India is the second largest market in every sense and pivotal to its growth. It already has close to 150 million users in India, but with the Internet boom driven by mobile, it could end up with a 3x growth here in the next few years. That is an opportunity neither it nor any of the other Internet-based startups out of California’s Bay Area, can afford to overlook. India becomes more important with the largest market China pretty much shutting the doors on these companies.
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For Narendra Modi, Facebook offers a tool none of his predecessors had, a tool that literally delivers him on the palm of his voter. Even before he was elected, the PM realised the power of the social media in this connected age. For him, Facebook and Twitter are well and truly the replacements of traditional media – they represent his version of the Fourth Estate.
In a country like India, Facebook actually takes him well beyond the reach of the last mile ‘karyakarta’. In fact, there are many users for whom Facebook is the Internet and Modi realises the potential this has in delivering his message to a country this vast, diverse and confusing. The hard tech behind Facebook’s algorithms can take care of the targetting that otherwise the BJP would have to spend sleepless nights over.
Modi’s campaign in the virtual space leading up to the elections in May 2014 was a big driver of growth for both Facebook and Twitter in India. The latter, for instance, tapped into a base which would otherwise never have given this micro-blogging platform a second look. They see him as being a driver for growth in the years to come given that the PM chooses to connect with his people primarily on these platforms.
For the average Indian, this new discourse on his smartphone screen has opened up the government like never before. He can now ‘Like’ new schemes, ‘Comment’ on the PM’s daily agenda and even get a retweet of approval from the most powerful social media name in Asia.