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Potential of text messaging for Public Diplomacy in India

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Of all the different mediums that are available for practitioners of Public Diplomacy to engage India, mobile phones remain underutilized. Mobile phone penetration in India is huge. It is the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world with companies adding over 15 million users every month. As of March 2009, India has 392 million mobile phone users. This figure is expected to reach 500 million beginning of 2010, and by 2015 the country is expected to have a billion plus users.

With the high penetration of mobile phones, text messaging has become an important tool to educate, inform, mobilize, engage Indians. India’s recent elections saw political parties using text messaging for campaigns. Civil society groups too have made innovative use of text messaging. A campaign that comes to mind is Sachche ko Chune, Achche ko Chune (Vote for the Honest, Vote for Good People), by the Association for Democratic Reforms, or ADR, a non-governmental organization (NGO). This was a SMS campaign that lets you send a text with your zip code, and, ADR sends the latest information about one’s constituency and the candidates contesting elections. NDTV’s campaign seeking text message signatures from the public to build pressure on government’s prosecution machinery, in the high profile Jessica Lal murder case, is also well known. Corporate groups already are making good use of text messaging in customer servicing from placing requests, generating feedbacks to paying bills etc.

Recently, Google launched its SMS text message service in India, www.google.co.in/sms, (already available in US) for mobile phone users who wish to find out information from Google about business listings, movie showtimes and other local or web information by sending queries to a specified number from their phones. Apparently, mobile phone users who do not have web browser or Internet access via their phones can still ping Google for information via SMS.

Mobile phone, especially text messaging, is growing as a preferred mode of communication in India. Cellular operators, too have been really enterprising with their tariff plans and handset prices and in India it is very normal to see a petty shopkeeper or a rickshaw puller flaunting a cellular phone. The potential for engagement is tremendous through this medium for creative minds.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome

-- Madhur
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