New Delhi: Is Facebook really for the masses? What about people who don’t have Internet access or are illiterate? Which network covers them? This is potentially a bigger user base that is still not connected. Keeping in mind these factors, Gram Vaani Community Media started a service called Mobile Vaani, a social network for people at the bottom of the pyramid.
It is a social media platform for rural India that aims to create voice- and video-based local media platforms for such communities. It not only connects these communities with each other but also engages them on topics of mutual interest.
“It is the Facebook and YouTube for the population at the bottom of pyramid. It is very hard to have an Internet-based network for this population because of low literacy levels, hence we developed Mobile Vaani,” said Aaditeshwar Seth, founder of Mobile Vaani.
Mobile Vaani, launched in 2012, is an interactive voice response (IVR) system that enables people to share and create content of their choice.
It works on five levels. First, the community media space where users can express themselves by sharing opinion, local news and updates, discussions and citing problems.
Second, an outreach platform is used by companies, government agencies, social sector partners and mobile content providers to reach users of the network through advertising, market research and feedback.
Third, it is used by government departments for engagement, announcements, data collection and feedback. Fourth, the network can also serve as a platform to publish local classifieds. Local entrepreneurs can advertise on the network about jobs, services or products they offer. Fifth, Mobile Vaani creates a self-sustaining platform for classified sourcing agents. Local entrepreneurs can become agents that help source local classifieds and spread information about the network.
Seth says initial hurdles while establishing Gram Vaani Community Media served as a learning process. Getting community radio permits was tough and these have a limited range. So the founder started exploring other means to empower people. In 2012, a mobile phone-based version was started in Jharkhand with the help of local partners.
“We had a task of developing a user-friendly interface. So we began with organizing community workshops where we explained what Mobile Vaani is and does,” Seth said. “The other challenge was to make it a financially sustainable service.”
It is a simple, easy to use system. People have to give a missed call to 08800097458 and the server calls them back. The IVR gives them options to leave a message and hear a message. “We get maximum calls in the mornings before people leave for work and in evenings when they return from work,” said Seth.
The network gets 2,000 calls a day and has more than 35,000 users in Jharkhand. The content is a mix of folk songs and tales, poetry, questions and answers, discussion and classified. On Sundays, the network has more entertainment-based programmes like Aap ki Awaaz, which has an assortment of classified advertisements, folk songs and discussions.
The network has reached a break-even stage and is completely funded by revenues and personal investment. Mobile Vaani earns revenue from the corporate sector, social sector and local classifieds.
Companies run advertisements, sponsorships and do market research on the network.
The social sector—non-governmental organizations, and development organizations—use Mobile Vaani to disseminate information about various best practices. Local entrepreneurs such as small shop owners, coaching centres and self-help groups use the network to advertise their services and products.
The majority of the revenue comes from the advertisements and the team at Mobile Vaani makes sure that these reach the right target audience. “We collect demographic information about the users who sign up with us. And based on that information, we target the ads,” said Seth. “By focusing on the right target audience, we not only save money but reach to the right user.”
“Some segments are sponsored by corporates, while there are 15-20 second ads placed between different channels but it is made sure that we don’t overload it with ads,” he said.
The business model followed is a simple one based on local agents, who enrol people on the network and collect advertisements from entrepreneurs. They get to keep a certain amount from the bookings. These agents also help in acquiring other agents and conducting their training. They can earn Rs.8,000-12,000 a month.
The platform plans to join hands with telecom operators to lower the costs of calls.
“We have the technology. It is now about expanding into various geographies. With the given technological capabilities, it can easily be applied to any geography with very little constraints. We believe it can have pan-India presence in the next 24-36 months,” said Seth.
Currently, Mobile Vaani is available only in Jharkhand, but its promoters have plans to start operations in the North-East, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Bihar. They are scouting local partners for tie-ups and to launch services. The focus will remain financial sustainability of the network, said Seth.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the mBillionth Awards.