Religious And Spiritual Content Gaining Traction On Social Networks Like Helo, ShareChat

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Pandit Vinod Pandey recently got an email from Helo, the Chinese version of ShareChat, in India. The ByteDance-owned platform wanted him to join it with an “opportunity” to monetise soon. A few weeks back, Pandey had received a similar pitch from ShareChat, which is already garnering millions of content views for him.

The 29-year-old is not a regular priest. He has presence across YouTube, Facebook, Quora, MyMandir and even the short-video app TikTok. The enthusiasm showed by Pandey and the social media companies chasing him points to the growing demand for religious and spiritual content, which was previously restricted to television and somewhat to YouTube but is finding a larger market on the Internet and social networks.

With a pickup in its consumption, a new genre of religious and devotional content startups, such as MyMandir, Rgyan and Kalpnik Technologies, is sprouting or gaining traction in the country. Older ones, meanwhile, are increasing focus to drive user engagement in a world with shorter attention span. There is potential to build a community of devotees, gurus and temples and then sell services to them. India’s spiritual and religious market is estimated to be more than $30 billion.

“It’s been an underserved category. There is a dearth of devotional content. It’s interesting to see traction there … It is our fastest evolving category,” said Sunil Kamath, the chief business officer at ShareChat, who said a lot of its users consumed devotional content in the first half of the day.

ShareChat has more than 25 spiritual gurus on the platform, including Baba Ramdev. It is looking out for many more to join.

Consumption of religious or devotional content is an India-specific behaviour. With increased penetration of Internet in small towns and villages in the last three years, first-time users are coming onto social networks. Their consumption patterns are completely different from those in cities.

“If you look at how people engage in daily life, spiritual (activities) and religion are a key part of it. This behaviour goes beyond the top 100-150 million Internet users in India. This is for the next 200-250 million Internet users. It is about building a platform to bring spiritual gurus and devotes virtually together,” said Prasanth Prakash, a partner at Accel Partners, which is one of the seed investors in MyMandir.

Social networks believe that they can build significant temple- or spiritual leader-oriented communities online, something that can’t be built on video platforms like YouTube. They feel that while top gurus in the country have funds for tech spending and personalised outreach programmes, they can reach out to local gurus or temples that are popular in specific regions.

“Rgyan is a spiritual Instagram with a touch of Quora. The platform will organise the religious market. Today, every guru and temple has a Facebook page. We want to target small gurus and temples and get their content onto the platform,” said Umesh Khatri, a cofounder of Rgyan.

Rgyan and MyMandir each claim half a million monthly active users, who share religious texts, images and videos of their favourite gods and gurus along with devotional and motivational messages. These social networks also provide religious texts and information on festivals, kundlis, Hindu calendar and astrology.

“It is a daily habit of millions. They go to temple and post it on Facebook. We feel there is a strong need for a separate community that is devotional in nature. The way Indians are expressing themselves in changing,” said MyMandir founder Rahul Gupta. “We are going after an underserved market from a devotee and temple perspective.”

Kalpnik Technologies creates its own content in partnership with temples to help control the quality of content available on their platform. It currently has a library of live and recorded content of 230 temples. The company wants to touch 500 temples and 50 gurus by the end of this year.

“Each guru has millions of followers in India. Many of these followers are digitally savvy millennials, not always their moms or dads. They want to listen to their recordings and spiritual talks but don’t have the time to visit them to Ashrams,” said Ashwani Garg, the founder of Kalpnik Technologies. “We are going to be the Netflix of religious and spiritual content.”

Source: The Economic Times


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