‘Disruptive’ Mobile Plays Well with ‘Older’ Radio

November 8, 2014
In developing countries, "missed calls" are becoming an extremely cost-effective cue for transmitting and obtaining information—without incurring fees for voice calls or text messages.

Many of us in developed countries find it annoying when somebody calls and hangs up before you can answer.

But in developing countries, "missed calls" are becoming an extremely cost-effective cue for transmitting and obtaining information—without incurring fees for voice calls or text messages. In India, for example, small businesses call vendors and hang up to indicate they need deliveries, fishermen use a "missed call" to inform buyers they are on the way back to the shore, and cricket fans use "missed calls" to get an SMS back with free score updates.

Now development professionals are increasingly pairing radio and "missed calls" to create interactive strategic/behavioral communications campaigns. These campaigns combine mobile—a disruptive and relatively expensive new technology—with an older free technology that reaches most of a target audience in many places. This synchronization keeps cost downs and, more importantly, prevents old and new technologies from competing with one another and creating useless noise. Two great examples are Radio Farm International's use of radio programs to advertise a "missed call" service for agriculture and weather tips in Tanzania and SMS polling about farmers' crop choices in Uganda.

Other ways mobile plays well with radio include call-ins, call-outs, voice messages, and interactive voice response. All of them turn traditional radio's one-way flow of information from broadcaster to listener into a powerful two-way distribution channel. When a high percentage of a target audience has web-enabled feature firms, mobile chat platforms (such as WhatsApp and Mxit) also present opportunities to combine radio and mobile to fuel listener-to-listener interaction.

Internews' Gaza Humanitarian Information Service, combining radio, SMS, and social media for humanitarian relief outreach in the Gaza Strip, provides an excellent example of what is possible. The efforts' expected results are:

  • "Communities access timely, accurate, well-targeted humanitarian information through radio and SMS and social media
  • Communities engage in 2-way communication with aid agencies through provision of high quality radio content, radio call-ins/talk-back programs, SMS channels and contemporaneous audience research
  • Key media outlets improve their capacity to broadcast quality humanitarian reporting by better understanding relief operations, effectively liaising with aid agencies and managing/sharing audience feedback
  • Effectiveness and accountability of the humanitarian response increase, as communities improve their understanding of how to access relief services and understand aid operations, including constraints and challenges, as well as how to best communicate with aid agencies"

I love the way the Internews and other examples above avoid the pitfall common in too many communications projects involving social media and mobile: cookie-cuttered tactics creating multiple, competing ways to spam audiences with identical content they just ignore. Tailoring your communications to fit a channel and audience needs makes it more likely your audience will see or hear your messages, remember them, and perceive them as relevant enough to prompt action. It also makes it more likely you will achieve your outcome (versus output) communications objectives even in an era of rapid technological change.

(Internews’ Gaza Humanitarian Information Service is referenced in this article from eVentures in Cyberland.)