Jhatkaa is an Indian advocacy organization founded in 2013 to initiate grassroots citizen campaigns for action on environmental and human rights issues. Most of Jhatkaa’s work has revolved around online petitions, followed by advocacy and outreach with supporters via SMS, IVR, missed calls, email and social media. In 2016, Jhatkaa used WhatsApp as an additional channel to engage supporters of two separate campaigns in Bangalore.
Jhatkaa first used WhatsApp as part of the #BangaloreIsBurning campaign to stop trash burning. Because local officials had minimized the issue, Jhatkaa saw an opportunity to crowdsource photographic and locational evidence via WhatsApp, used by 96 percent of Indian smartphone owners. In September, Jhatkaa initiated a new campaign, Save Bangalore’s Trees, to halt the destruction of trees for road widening. Unlike #BangaloreisBurning, the campaign did not require crowdsourcing photos, locations, or other multimedia from supporters. Therefore instead of using WhatsApp, Jhatkaa had new campaign supporters register by making missed calls to a dedicated phone number. Supporters were then sent an SMS encouraging them to refer friends. The marketing was successful, generating more than 200,000 missed call registrations, but this scale made the cost of continued SMS outreach and engagement unsustainable. Moreover, few registered supporters responded to SMS outreach. Hoping to increase engagement and reduce costs, Jhatkaa attempted to transition supporters to WhatsApp for continued dialogue and updates.
Both campaigns were marketed through email, Facebook, print, radio and events, calling on supporters to sign an online petition and contact a mobile phone number. For #BangaloreIsBurning, supporters were asked to send a WhatsApp message to a number to be added to a group through which they could then share photos and locations of trash fires, which Jhatkaa then added to a public map. Supporters of Save Bangalore’s Trees were asked to make a missed call to a number to register their contact. Upon registration, Jhatkaa would send supporters an SMS with a call to action to forward it to others so they could also register. After registration and referral, Jhatkaa continued trying to engage supporters via SMS dialogue and updates. As SMS costs increased and engagement waned, Jhatkaa attempted to move supporters to WhatsApp by sending an SMS with a new WhatsApp number and encouraging recipients to contact the new number via WhatsApp to join a group or broadcast list.
Both campaigns successfully met their goals, as Bangalore issued penalties for burning garbage, and the road-widening project was canceled. More than 500 fires were submitted to the #BangaloreIsBurning groups for mapping, and the Save Bangalore’s Trees groups had up to 10 percent engagement from members, up from 1 percent on SMS. Yet only 2,000 of the total 200,000 supporters transitioned to WhatsApp. And even at small scale, WhatsApp’s limits on group and list size forced Jhatkaa to break the contacts into multiple groups and lists, at one point managing more than 20 groups at a time. Jhatkaa fears that at greater scale, these limits will become unmanageable. Conversely, the organization has capitalized on these groups by conducting A/B testing of different messaging approaches, sharing identical links with different messages to different groups, then using the source code to compare click rates for each.