Importance of local language in Indian context and social media

Kalpnesh Gupta, Co- Founder and CMO, ShabdaNagari

Internet undoubtedly has emerged as a go to medium for anyone and everyone looking for any kind of information. Gone are the days when people used to stop their cars at every crossroads while looking for an address, they now go to Google maps, we don’t ask for popular restaurants from our friends but connect with them on Zomato, we, certainly, don’t haggle with taxi drivers because we Uber. Utility of such apps and improvement of connectivity has had a life changing effect on all of us. But you will be surprised to know ‘all of us’ is not more than 100 million internet users while there are close to 850 million smartphone users alone in the country who see English speaking internet users weave magic by a touch of a button on their fancy gadgets. If India, has to bring the next 300 million users online, then local language content generation will be the driver to reach this target.

Our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has also embarked upon an ambitious journey to digitise rural India. This means that availability of content relevant to rural and possibly first time internet users has to be in their native language. A farmer should be able to know about the latest farming techniques to improve his output through a touch of a button. At Shabdanagri, this is what we aspire to achieve. We had started out as a social media networking site in Hindi and have seen a phenomenal growth in m-o-m user base. Our endeavour is to generate compelling Hindi language content which is relevant to a mature internet user in a metro and to a first time internet user in a rural or semi urban area.

The Hindi language speakers in our country stand at 45 – 55 crore making Hindi one of the most popular languages in the World, but when translated into an online world, it is dismal. Hindi content is at 0.1% of the total content generated online. Countries like China, Japan, Russia, Poland, Dubai, Saudi Arabia have a much higher local language content available online. Clearly, the market opportunity is big and there is a need to increase content platforms to give users a choice of language they want to communicate in.

All leading social networking site, though give a preferred local language option, still remain a hub for English social media users. For every English user, there are more than 2 pages of content available whereas for every 50 thousand Hindi users there is only 1 page of content.

Recently, many local language led content platform have emerged but have been slow at garnering traction because the content is not good enough for the end users to spare his KBs and MBs. He is still happy watching videos in his native language on You Tube. In our experience, topics like poetry, politics, current affairs, fashion and sport have dominated content on our site. We also enable users to post questions on discussion boards and generate more and more user led content. If multi-lingual social networks are able to drive their messaging either through focused online communities or videos to their target users that local language social media network are fast becoming a reality, who knows in a few years from you, we will be in a position to challenge Facebook on its turf. Before you laugh it off as a joke from an overambitious entrepreneur, Facebook has seen stiff competition from countries like Russia, China etc. and still doesn’t feature even in top 3 social networks in these countries because locally designed social media networks are ruling the roost.

With rising internet usage level among Indians, demand for localized content is at an all-time high. We know that next 300 million internet users will prefer local language internet. According to IAMAI report rural population uses internet mainly for entertainment, followed by communication and social networking. If we have to change this matrix, we have to give what end users want – good quality, easy to access and fun to share local language content.

Connectivity:

India is the 2nd largest and fastest growing smartphone market globally with close to 150 million smartphone users and is expected to cross 650 miillion mark by 2019, according to a report by Cisco. Though smartphones are getting cheaper and telecos are rolling out 3G and 4G services, but it is expected to be an urban phenomenon for a few more years. Thus poor connectivity in the hinterland, where local language users are looking to discover content in their language, can mar adoption of multi-lingual social media platforms.

It is advisable that language solutions and digital platforms must design their services and products with this in mind as data-heavy sites requiring a strong network would quickly fail in such pockets.

Dependance on English to surf in native language:

Global giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter are working towards bridging the language divide but the fact remains that to use their language-enabled features, one should have working knowledge of English as the interface is still in English language.

Testing new waters of the ever evolving language for marketers

Good news is the new age companies specially consumer internet companies like Snapdeal, Quikr, Hike and financial services companies like HDFC Securities and Kotak Mahindra Bank have started offering their services in multiple local languages.

However, some of the established players are yet to take the language plunge. For marketers who are looking to penetrate deeper into the tier I and II cities, a possible collaboration with local language social media networks to create branded content can drive a higher user engagement and transaction in these cities.

As per industry forecasts, there will be an increase in investments on creating local language advertisements. This may help in introducing new consumer market segments. Online ad spends on local language content is also expected to rise from 5% in June 2015 to 30% by 2020. Where better to show them on an indigenously built social media platforms in native languages.

Support System

Good news is that various elements of a support system to promote Hindi online are falling in place. Local languages are getting attention from the right quarters. The Government has launched a web domain — .Bharat, which enables users to type Internet addresses in the Devanagari script that is used to write Hindi, Marathi, Sindhi and some other Indian languages.

Influencers such as Amitabh Bachchan, Rahul Dev, Sam Pitroda and others with huge social media following have also been supporting the need for local language content and digitization through their tweets and posts.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj laid emphasis on the usage of local languages and encouraged Hindi to be one of the main languages for all official communications. A majority of state and Central government websites already offer Hindi as a language option to surf and discover relevant information for the citizens. Such steps will go a long way in ensuring success of local languages on the Internet.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also expressed support for imparting technical education in native languages to give impetus to youth-led development of the country. This strategy can help bridge the language gap giving rural youth a reasonable chance to contribute towards innovation that may impact the nation.

The green shoots are beginning to surface. According to a report released by Google India in 2014, 21% of the population prefers to access internet in Hindi across the country and Hindi content consumption on internet has taken off showing a growth of 94% year on year compared to 19 per cent growth for English content.

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“Thinking Aloud” reflects the emerging trends and varied outlook of the rapidly evolving internet and communication sector. An IAMAI publication, this is a part of the market education initiative of the association.


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