By: Sunil Kamath (Chief Business Officer, ShareChat)

We are in the year 2018. In the 21st century, the basic utilities of rotikapda and makaan is followed by internet. It is the fourth basic utility fast gaining prominence in our daily lives. Right from booking a movie ticket to finding a date to reading horoscopes and daily news, Internet helps you do everything under the sun. It has become a part of our lives to an extent we cannot deny the fact that it has become a basic right and imagining a world without Internet is impossible. But, if Internet is a basic right, why are 824 Mn Indians still unconnected and haven’t experienced the Internet yet? The answer to this is a simple question. Is the Internet providing them what they need? No.

India and regional content

India is a land with diversity in culture. Everyone dresses differently, celebrates different festivals and speaks more than thousand languages. When every individual is so different from each other, the question is, can one language connect them? According to a report, only 1% of existing internet users communicate in English, 39% users communicate in Hindi while an overwhelming 60% users converse in their mother tongue. Interestingly, while regional languages dominated the country, English remained the language of internet in India for a long time. Gradually, India has embraced the internet revolution and Bharat comprising of the country’s regional language users are coming onboard and growth rates are indicative of the rise in internet users growing in regional languages.

Local app developers boosting vernacular content

While the appetite for regional content consumption is huge, there is not much vernacular content available on the Internet. This is because, while the non- English users are consuming whatever local content is available, content creation has yet not become a phenomenon amongst the regional language users thus limiting the availability of vernacular content. According to a study conducted by IAMAI and IMRB International, regional content availability can boost the growth of Internet in India by 24%. There are more than 70,000 newspapers printed in India and around 90% are either printed in Hindi or other vernacular languages. Realizing this potential, today, Indian app developers are recognizing the need for local app.

There is an innate desire in every individual to connect with like-minded people and know about their local happenings. Being at the forefront of vernacular social media revolution, at ShareChat, we understand that this audience is very different from the English Internet users. As a regional language based UGC social media platform available in 14 Indic languages, we have observed that a person residing in Kerala or Gujarat or Andhra Pradesh wants to consume information on events, incidents happening around him in his local language. Whether it is city news, memes, music, films, celebrity updates, they want content they can relate to. We have seen many exciting content trends that has emerged across 20mn monthly users on our platform consuming content across 25 genres. Greetings, festival celebrations, love and romance, humour, politics and local government initiatives are the kind of content that has seen amazing virality on our platform. There is a huge appetite for entertainment and content that will make a difference to their life. With reduced data price, we have seen remarkable growth in video content especially short video formats and we see that regional video content is the growing trend in content consumption.

Need to localize content for mass adoption

When it comes to offerings and services, the regional language speaking population need help in booking tickets, paying bills, and online shopping or trading. This huge demand coming from regional language speaking population has recently led companies and government to make changes in how they offer their services. For eg: Indian Railways has made ticket booking possible in Hindi. Recently, the Oxford University Press introduced online dictionaries in Tamil and Gujarati. Many e-commerce, retail, fintech and other industries are adding vernacular variants to their existing portals.

Pacing up vernacular content by building an ecosystem

The growth in the regional content is also opening up new avenues for advertisers. But, it is essential to understand that this audience might not be accessing popular mobile apps available in English. There is a need for the mobile ecosystem consisting of mobile Operating System, OEMs and app developers to address this audience by offering local language capabilities on their platform. On one hand, while OS developers can simplify for users to choose their preferred languages on their OS, OEMs can make their handsets more intuitive and allow users to easily switch languages within the handset and contribute to the vernacular content growth.

New avenue for marketers and birth of local influencers

Regional language internet users are an altogether separate subset of users. When it comes to marketing your products/services to them, they cannot replicate the strategy applied for English internet users. They have to take a step back, rebuild, rethink and reinvent the mode of communication that will help them reach the mass audience. A native banner ad might not be the best you can offer and therefore a lot of marketers are experimenting with local influencers to reach the masses in a language their audience is comfortable with. One such recent trend we have observed, is the growth of mobile gaming amongst regional language users. The market is growing by leaps and bounds and having the urban market saturated, the marketers are eyeing a huge pie of regional language users, by reaching out to influencers on local social media platform to promote their games in local languages. This is just the beginning of regional influencer marketing and this trend has a long way to go.

Affordable smartphones, cheaper data have no doubt led to increase in internet penetration in every section of the society and fastened the pace of digitization but what will they consume on the Internet. If there is no relevant content for them, there is no motivation for them to be on the platform. So, we understand that while there is a huge demand for local relevant content in regional languages, the challenge is to offer a platform for young first-time creators of local content and promote their content to attract new users on the internet and if we are able to create that perfect balance, the dream of Digital India is not far.

Originally the article was published on The Qrius (Former The Economist): Regional content has a big role in Digital India dream

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