New Delhi: India has primarily been a voice-based market for the telecom operators. But one company is seeking to change that trend.

Creating options: The application provides services such as free multimedia messaging, interest-based communities and free downloads. By Sima Dubey/Bloomberg News

It is a mobile social network driven by audio and video content. In 2007, it started as an audio message service but the protocol was open for the developer community to test multiple usage of the product. And in 2009, thus came the full version of RockeTalk with integration of video messages and text features.

The initial problem in developing such an app was to bring standardization. This is what has become its strength now. The app is available on all kinds of operating systems and works seamlessly on a low-end handset as well, and is free. A user pays for data usage charges.

Click here to listen Sameer Agarwal speaking about the product and its unique features.

Currently, the product has 16 million registered users with India leading the pack with 8.6 million active users. The application provides services like free multimedia messaging, interest-based communities, free downloads like wallpapers and ringtones and creating private and public content galleries.

“Right now, we have over 150,000 active interest groups on RockeTalk on topics ranging from music, education, news, sports, singing and many more. Like, one user who deals in automobiles is using this platform to share information in a format of an automobile talk show. He has a huge following among his user base looking for advice on cars," says Agarwal.

Users have the option to create private or invitation-only groups. According to Agarwal, mostly it is the family members who create such groups where they like to interact with other relatives. About 30-35% of the interest groups belong to this category.

The rich-media messages can be sent across the world and are not restricted to the RockeTalk users. All one needs is a phone number and an email address but for the respondent to reply, she must be a RockeTalk user. Users can create their profile, browse and find new friends, click and upload photos and videos and interact with others on the network. “We use these videos as a YouTube like channel where people upload and others like and share those videos," explains Agarwal.

The majority of users come from smaller towns like Meerut, Moradabad and Baroda. “Small town users have been leading the growth of the app, 70% of our users come from tier-2 cities. These people have their first Internet experience on their handsets. No language barrier, no handset limitation, just the urge to share and to hear each other," says Agarwal.

He says RockeTalk cuts through the clutter because of one reason—it doesn’t follow the dumbed down approach like other social networks where there are a lot restrictions in terms of hardware, software and data coverage. RockeTalk can be used on a simple feature phone with equal ease of that being used on a high-end smartphone powered by iOS or Android.

To earn money, the app uses in-app advertising method in which banner and rich-media ads are placed strategically. But all this is not through ad networks; the company engages with the brand directly. “We have built user engagement models with brands where we not only provide ad space but also interactive campaigns. Basically, placing ads as a content, creating value for the brand as well as the user," says Agarwal.

Another innovative monetization model is based on user sponsorship. There is a section called “what’s hot" in the app, which features the most popular users. Out of four such slots, two places are open for the users to pay and get featured. This was launched couple of months back but is gaining popularity with the spots being sold out months in advance, according to the company.

“Virtual reputation building models work well with people from small towns. They love to be admired and talked about. The excessively high levels of aspiration are a great encouragement for them," adds Agarwal.

The company is planning to launch in at least one international market this year, though they already have users in countries such as the UK, Ghana, Indonesia, Pakistan, UAE and Germany. In India, Uttar Pradesh is the biggest market for them with 2.5 million users, followed closely by Jammu and Kashmir where text services are banned because of security reasons. “Our target is to touch 50 million user base in the next two years. The growth in India has been planned out well. We have user pockets in all the places," says Agarwal.

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