This year marked an interesting milestone in my family. Both of my grandmothers--in their seventies--decided that they had had enough.
“I don’t want to rely on you all the time,” they told us, the grandkids, on separate occasions. “I want to look at the pictures myself and I want to like them on my own, not through your account.”
Soon enough, we set up their Facebook profiles and in the few months that have passed since, both the ladies have developed an impeccable growth chart.
And they’re not alone.
“There has been a powerful change from 2013,” says Bhupendra Khanal, CEO of Simplify 360, social business intelligence firm [LOCATION] that tracks trends in the digital world. “Where we have people above 50 as the power users, they are tied to Facebook, Skype and Viber to connect to relatives outside Nepal,” says Khanal.
Social media, which took the Nepali population by storm in the beginning of the decade, is now seeing the number of non-conventional users rising rapidly, allowing room for reflection and retrospection of the changing modes of advertising, platforms of news consumption and public discourse.
Conversations are not necessarily limited to major events.“I could see only the elite events covered and talked about in social media in 2013,” says Khanal, but that seems to be changing. “Now, most of the local village events are talked about; my village Urlabari sees several religious and cultural events every year. Updates about those events are now on Facebook, as most rural schools, communities or organisations are on Facebook today.”
Simplify 360 estimates that more than 10 million people will be on Facebook in the next three years, that is, one in every three Nepali. Worldwide, Facebook boasts 1.34 billion active users every month.
In Nepal, the current figures stand at at 4.4 million. Khanal says if we estimate that around 40 per cent of that 4.4 million is from Kathmandu then that brings the total users from the Valley to around 1.2 million, which means that the remaining 3.2 million must be from outside.
Much of this growth in users has to do with people’s accepting the digital revolution as a social norm, says Santoshi Rana, founder of Bihani Social Venture, a social enterprise that offers Internet literacy classes for senior citizens. “When we are dealing with our clients we realise that motivation from their families members and encouragement goes a long way,” she says, “and the idea of digital use by all is now flourishing.”
Bihani also offers to help elderly clients who are entrepreneurs expand their enterprises in the social media. “It depends on what the people want. Some would want to connect with their children who are living aboard and some would want to open a Facebook page for their business.”
[transition]Nepal Telecom Authority Data shows that mobile phone penetration has reached 72 per cent and Internet penetration is at 30 per cent and while Facebook continues to dominate as the top social networking site, Twitter is picking up as well. It is estimated that there could be around 1 million
twitter users in Nepal among the 64.5 million registered Twitter users worldwide.
[transition]Former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai became ‘Nepal’s first twitter celebrity’ as his number of followers crossed 100 thousand. Nepali Congress Leader GaganThapa, CIAA chief Lokman Singh Karki and Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat were among Twitter enthusiasts CPN UML leader KP Sharma Oli who recently joined Twitter has become quite active as he makes periodic announcements and frequent photo updates.
During the SAARC summit, leaders engaged in ‘twiplomacy’ at full swing, sharing pictures of meetings with their counterparts and expressing solidarity towards regional cooperation.
Earlier in August, twitter exploded when Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi’s tweeted about Nepal prior to his visit in August. A Facebook post of a picture of Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi getting out of his luxury ride and meeting the public outside the Constituent Assembly building in New Baneshwor garnered over 65,000 likes and thousands of comments.
Other trending topics was the‘Buddha was born in Nepal’ outburstafter a show in Zee TV claimed otherwise, and the chatter around what was believed to be the largest animal sacrifice at the Gadhimai Fair.
Such proliferation of social media is bringing about tectonic shifts in the news industry and as the number of users continues to increase the influence of social media is becoming even the more prominent.“Social Media in Nepal is actually fuelling the mainline media usage and coverage,” says Khanal at Simplify 360.
Recently, an open letter by rape victim knocking at the doors of justice went viral on social media with BaburamBhattarai declaring that he had cried for the first time and would do everything he could to help her bring justice.
“Newsrooms have definitely responded to social media outburst on many occasions,” says ArpanShrestha, a journalist and social media enthusiast, “it is also a pulse check for politicians.”
While journalists have also built a popular Twitter base, Shrestha, who spearheaded popular twitter handles like ‘Occupy Baluwatar’ and ‘iblood’, and more recently the #Fillthebucket campaign-- which collected relief items for flood and landslide victims--sayssocial media’s democratic backbone is yet to fully materialise. The irony of social and new media is that it continues to be dictates largely by the traditional media. However, newsrooms could change that. “Newsroom could really break this bubble but haven’t been able to switch themselves into a 24/7 news ecosystem,” says Shrestha.
As we usher in the New Year, the mobile usage of the mainline social networksis expected to surge and mobile networks will have a huge role to play. So like grandmothers on Facebook and politicians on twitter, it would be safe to assume that 2015 will unfold some interesting trends as the digital trajectory continues to expand.