NEW DELHI: Social network use is rising rapidly in India, and this channel now plays an increasingly influential role in shaping perceptions of brands.

Research provider The Nielsen Company and analytics specialist AbsolutData polled 2,000 people in five major cities, and estimate that nearly 30m Indians belong to sites like Facebook and Orkut.

The survey revealed two-thirds of members logged on every day, and 20% dedicated between one and three hours during this timeframe, measured against 8% utilising email for the equivalent duration.

Based on current trends, 45,000 netizens will join a Web 2.0 portal per day going forward.

The most popular social networking pastimes included checking updates, on 86%, sending messages (82%), sharing and viewing photos (81%), and contacting old friends (79%).

Watching video and listening to music secured 73%, the same score as keeping up with family, while using apps posted 63%.

Another 58% entered discussions about issues, products, goods and services, and 43% sought out information relating to future employers, or potential employees.

A quarter of interviewees could recall an instance where a brand used social media, and a "small but growing number" on Indians are following companies and products on such platforms.

Indeed, 60% of people that had signed up to social media sites were "open" to being approached by brands on this channel.

Further, 61% of the entire sample described brands present on this medium as "customer friendly", 58% believed they were "open to receiving feedback" and 55% regarded them as "business-orientated".

A 52% majority portrayed the same operators as innovators, falling to 51% for social responsibility, and 45% when it came to displaying "cool" characteristics.

Similarly, 44% agreed this activity made corporate users look "leading edge", a total standing at 42% for the metric "fun to be associated with", and 39% concerning transparency.

Elsewhere, the study suggested 67% of Indian netizens, a projected 40m people, read online reviews to help them make purchases, showing the climbing importance attached to electronic word of mouth.

"Social media is now ingrained in the way tech-savvy Indians live their lives," said Adrian Terron, Nielsen's vp, global communications and marketing.

"No single brand 'owns' the social media space and ... the opportunity to become a 'social' brand is overwhelming.

"Given that, having a social media presence connotes 'innovation' 'customer friendliness' and a sense of 'cool,' brands should only ignore this aspect at their own peril."

Data sourced from The Nielsen Company; additional content by Warc staff