Uliza: Listener Interactivity Services
Listener Interactivity Services
Swahili for “ask,” Uliza was first developed as a tool for audience polling. It has since evolved into a suite of services that combine radio, mobile phones and, often, interactive voice response systems to enable listeners to communicate and exchange information with their radio station quickly, easily and free of charge.
Across Africa, fees apply to the person who places a phone call, but not the one who answers it. To participate in Uliza-supported services, listeners begin by calling a certain phone number and immediately hanging up, before anyone answers — what we call “beeping.” Sometimes, this is the entire interaction, as in radio polls. Sometimes, it prompts an automatic return call via Uliza which is the jumping-off point for deeper engagement
Broadcasters access audience data in real time through Uliza’s digital dashboard, which helps them better understand their listeners, gather feedback, access listener-generated content and provide information and services that help their listeners.
So far, more than 70 of our radio partners have used Uliza to interact with more than 210,000 individual listeners.
Interviewing farmers helps ensure that radio programs are audience-centred. But going into the field takes time and money, and many radio stations in rural Africa operate on shoestring budgets. We developed Beep2Vox to help broadcasters capture farmers’ voices without leaving the station. After leaving a free missed call, the farmer is called back and asked to share their opinion on the question of the week. Beep2Vox is our way to get more voices on the air, cheaply and easily.
Radio polls are a great way for broadcasters to learn more about their listeners, from what they already know to what they want to find out about next. Beep2Vote allows listeners to answer a poll question by calling a designated number and hanging up. Generally a separate number is assigned to each potential response, so the missed calls are simply tallied. Broadcasters can access the poll results in real time and share them live on the air.
Weather information is vital for farmers. They need to know not only what temperatures and precipitation to expect, but also what they should be doing when. Beep4Weather provides critical weather forecasts on demand. Farmers “beep” the number and an interactive voice response system returns the call, providing weather information and agricultural tips specific to their region. Local broadcasters gather this information, record it and promote the system on their radio shows.
Sometimes, the biggest challenge in trying a new crop is finding the right inputs. Beep4Inputs was designed to connect farmers with local suppliers of things such as seeds, vines and even specially designed storage bags. After leaving a missed call to a designated phone number, farmers receive a call back and a recorded message provides them with access to a directory of suppliers based on their location — free of charge.
Farmers are not always able to tune in to agricultural programs. Beep4Tips allows them to catch up on important information that they may have missed. Broadcasters record highlights from their show to share with listeners. Callers “beep” the number shared by the radio station, and an interactive voice response system returns the call to play the summary. Beep4Tips also helps farmers who did tune in, but want a reminder of the key advice shared in the latest program.
The success of Uliza presented us with a challenge: how to deal with the hundreds of questions that a given radio program receives from listeners every week. Typically, four or five of the most popular questions are aired during the program and experts are invited to answer them. But many important ones are left unanswered. With Uliza Answers, questions from farmers are dispatched to subject matter experts, who provide answers in the form of voice recordings that make their way back to the farmers.
Uliza Log is a web-based application used by our staff, broadcasters, knowledge partners and other project stakeholders to monitor and evaluate radio program content and production techniques. Users can give feedback on program quality and engage in discussions about individual episodes. By letting broadcasters submit reports about their weekly radio programs and attach recordings of each episode, Uliza Log makes it easy to keep track of projects.
Farm Radio’s Voxbox technology provides radio hosts and studio operators with an interface for managing on-air listener interactions, including incoming and outgoing calls, conference calls and SMS. Voxbox is powered by the Raspberry Pi mini-computer and USB modems, equipped with ordinary GSM SIM cards. The application runs on any device with a web browser, including computers, smartphones and tablets. Voxbox is compatible with most studio equipment found in radio stations in sub-Saharan Africa and does not require an active internet connection.
Through polls and other interactive services, radio stations can also learn about their target audience. Opt-in registration allows for a listener’s name, location and demographic data (such as age, gender and occupation) to be captured. This information is used to build a database of subscribers that helps the radio station better understand their listeners and meet their needs.
Radio programs can only help farmers if they tune in. That’s why we have enabled text message alerts that remind listeners about the timing and focus of upcoming broadcasts.