This episode of Partner Talks will be a bit different from the previous ones. We interviewed an exceptional person, Deepa Govind, a passionate homepreneur (a home-based entrepreneur) who is also a very well-known member of the Zoho community and very active in charities dedicated to the education and emancipation of women in rural India.

She provided a unique perspective on how WhatsApp is used in her country and how it is affecting the lives of millions of people both in the big cities and in the countryside. The information and perspective she provides is an essential resource for any business that wishes to start using WhatsApp in India or enter the Indian Market.

deepa govind

Deepa Govind – Homepreneur and Zoho Products Consultant

Deepa Govind is a Zoho Products Consultant, Homepreneur and Zoho Creator developer

Key points of the talk

WhatsApp in India – a multilingual story

Indian users spend an average of 21.3 hours per month on WhatsApp, more than any other social media app, and the opportunities to use it for business purposes are obvious. Before jumping in, however, it is wise to keep in mind a few interesting aspects that emerged from our conversation with Deepa.

  • Diversity: The first is that the country is very diverse, and this diversity is reflected in the way people communicate. As Deepa pointed out, there are over 20 languages in the country, each with its own dialects and some don’t even have a writing system and the average Indian speaks at least four.

The more urban and educated population groups do speak English as well but, depending on the initiative and its target market, businesses have to be careful not to alienate large parts of their potential audience.

  • Cost:  In India, Deepa explained that often it is cheaper to send audios back and forth than it is to do a long distance phone call and the quality of the connection is also often improved when using WhatsApp. Another of her points echoed one from our previous episode with Jaime from HOLD Marketing who mentioned that one of the reasons why WhatsApp was being preferred was due to cost.

Audio, images and videos can work better than text

An interesting side effect of the presence of so many languages and writing systems in the country is the preference for audio, video and image content over text. The reason is a practical one: an audio message is easy to send in any language, and the same applies to video and audio.

Text needs to be typed and typing with phones that were primarily designed with a western writing system in mind can be tricky. In rural areas this effect is compounded by lower levels of digital literacy and overall familiarity with technology.

These considerations have a significant impact on businesses that are planning to use WhatsApp for communication and/or marketing, since they’ll be more successful if they integrate them in their WhatsApp communication strategy.

When creating a chatbot, for example, it will be easier for users to have a multiple-choice button-based type of menu rather than being asked to type in the questions.

Interestingly, this approach is the opposite of what works in countries like Mexico where users prefer an open interface, as Jaime of HOLD Marketing explained in the previous episode of Partner Talks.

How WhatsApp is helping bridging gender and education gaps

During the interview Deepa introduced us to two initiatives that she’s part of and that are aimed at increasing digital literacy and entrepreneurship in rural areas, with a special focus on women. They are the Google Internet Saathi program and Sheroes.

A key part of these initiatives is to foster peer to peer learning, where volunteers like Deepa help instruct groups of 10-15 people on various topics. She explained that given the widespread adoption of WhatsApp in the country almost all their communication takes place via WhatsApp using a mix of audio messages, images and videos.

She stated that in more developed areas children often pick up digital skills as they grow and then teach older generations. However, in rural areas this work is essential to help increase the base level of digital and entrepreneurial literacy and help people start and manage their own businesses.

As a final note to any company thinking of using WhatsApp in India, Deepa recommends to listen to locals first. And then, afterwards, make an effort to understand the peculiarities and cultural preferences of the area of this incredibly diverse country that they wish to do business in.

 

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