Giving the Social Media Campaigns a Linguistic Twist

Peeyush Bajpai
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“Anil Kapoor Chattano MI 4"--this is what Tom Cruise tweeted inadvertently, when he used automated translation to convert his tweet to Hindi before his impending visit to India, and MI 4's release. What he meant to say was “Anil Kapoor rocks in MI 4”. Irrespective of the error and the comic sense to it, the larger point to be made here is that India, as a market, can be penetrated into only if the language is addressed.

The importance of this did not escape Tom Cruise, whose marketing managers advised him to use the social networking site Twitter in Hindi. Since the mid 2000’s the evolution of Hindi as a language on digital platforms has caught up. Once referred to as a complex script by Microsoft, Hindi has now become a focal point for global digital companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, who are now eager to tap into the potential audience base in India.

Using English as the chosen mode of communication is how most of these companies grew in India initially. The English speaking audience from the top tier cities in India have always been the low hanging fruits irrespective of any particular industry, but we know it is a very small number compared to the overall market that India contains.

Language Barrier

Even in the top tier cities, the internet has not yet penetrated into the non-English speaking audience. Thus, most companies now believe that the next phase of growth would come only through the non-English space, but that does not necessarily imply that they are talking about the rural space. For a brand to flourish in any space, whether rural or urban, in it is integral for them to attract and engage with the audience in a medium that they are comfortable and socially associated with.

This reminds me of an anecdote that I read in a popular international publication. Mala Kumari (name changed) a 15 year old girl, moved to Delhi from a village in Uttar Pradesh, where she witnessed a great deal of hoopla about Facebook. Curious, Mala went to the nearest cyber cafe to check it out. With a little assistance from her friend she registered herself as well as her parents. Even though Mala is a migrant, non-English speaking person, she has the same desire as an English speaking person to use the internet to stay in touch with friends and family. The language barrier would not have allowed Mala's parents to operate Facebook, but she still created profiles for them, hoping they might be able to access it some day.

There are many such Malas among us, who, despite having the interest and the will to adapt to newer mediums of communication, remain deprived because of language. The Vernacular Report 2012 also revealed that 45 million users access content in their local language.

Around 64% of rural internet users (24.3 million active users out of a total of 38 million) use the internet in their local language. But this phenomenon holds true even for an urban audience where 20.9 million net users browse content in their regional language. Indeed, these surveys and other forms of evidence clearly indicate that the lack of digital content in a local language is not because of lack of demand or desire; the constraint lies elsewhere.

Brands and Vernacular Languages

Industry data shows the audience that online local media has seen a much faster growth in the last couple of years. Getting on to the internet to read the latest news of an area is now doable with just enough knowledge of English, to log on and search in the language. As the internet penetrates deeper, the proportion of users with knowledge of English will fall.

To communicate to them effectively online, to ensure brand recall, and to ensure that the message is understood, brands will have to use a vernacular medium. This makes it important to steer social media campaigns that are well suited to those markets. If we take a bird’s eye view of a situation, their core audience for key brands is the vernacular audience of urban India.

The audience is spreads across the SEC As and Bs in smaller cities and towns or in rural India, as well as the SEC Cs and Sec Ds in the metros where the purchasing power of the audience is increasing with each passing day. Language is the distinguishing factor that would enable the brand to become a part of a consumer's mind space at a more intuitive level.

Additionally in India, we are very uniquely placed as compared to the rest of the world. Unlike other countries where it is the metros that drive growth, India has a very dominant agricultural economy where rural markets can become key growth drivers. The mobile phone boom displayed that once the infrastructure was taken care of, penetration is not an insurmountable challenge.

Creating language specific Social Media Campaigns

The mobile phone, being an audio medium, did not have a language barrier. The MVAS text industry languished as a result of this and could not grow. In relevance to internet penetration, poor infrastructure had been a dominant reason for the lack of access to the internet and subsequently its development in Indian languages. While the efforts are being directed towards the accessibility of the internet; one can see the growth emerging from the smaller cities and towns.

To create language specific social media campaigns, it is integral for brands to deconstruct their social media audience in terms of their usage patterns and internet usage behaviour. For the Hindi speaking audience, language based platforms are mediums that they use to solve their daily difficulties and to enable them to understand a world beyond the one they live in.

Moreover, they do not understand what exactly is available to them and the range of content that they are able to explore. Hence, social media campaigns for such an audience should be more basic and exploratory in nature, since the present content is extremely static.

With Hindi making inroads, the content will become more dynamic and real time in nature. With big brands taking an active interest in ensuring a complete ecosystem developed in Hindi and other Indian languages, the content will only improve. The internet gives brands the power to create more engaging consumer messaging and customizing them for different languages and regions.

Use of terms, personalities, images, references can all be tweaked to deliver a more lasting engagement with consumers. People coming from smaller towns would love to relate to a Saina or a Dhoni as an ambassador, or the rural belts would love the wrestlers and boxers who have made India proud.

The Hindi film industry is by far the biggest medium to provide the inputs for reaching out to a Hindi audience. Personalities like Lata Mangeshkar and Amitabh Bachchan are ambassadors of Hindi content on Twitter as well as the biggest influencers.


The only challenge in this case is that no brand has till now created a social media campaign specifically targeting the vernacular audience. In such a scenario it is integral that brands gather a complete understanding of their target audience basis and initiate smaller campaigns targeted towards this niche audience or regions.

This would facilitate brands to reach out to an existing audience demographic that is currently not being touched upon.Through the years, brands have evolved their messages across various mediums and platforms. Language specific content on social media marks the beginning of a completely new era, and it is absolutely vital for social media campaigns to create conversations amongst consumers.

Localisation of messages in encapsulating the ethos, intricacy and beauty of the culture are facets that would give social media campaigns the linguistic twist it requires, thus making them stand out.

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