[YS Exclusive] The rise and rise of TikTok: how a Chinese video creation app democratised content in India
TikTok is India’s fastest-growing and most-downloaded app. Sachin Sharma, Director - Sales and Partnership, TikTok India explains how its viral popularity even in the country’s remotest parts has compelled all stakeholders, from brands to the local government, to sit up and take notice.
If you have been on the Indian internet lately, one word that wouldn’t have escaped your attention is TikTok. You would have heard of it or read about it even if you’re not on it.
The short-form video curation app, owned by Chinese internet giant Bytedance, has taken the world by storm. While the $75-billion Bytedance owns a slew of apps and software products, TikTok is its biggest sensation.
It has wooed people world over, with India alone accounting for 200 million of its users. In Q1 2019, TikTok added 88.6 million users in the country, making it India’s fastest-growing as well as the most-downloaded app.
TikTok is already available in 10 Indian languages and pulling in users from the remotest corners of the country. Or so claims Sachin Sharma, Director - Sales and Partnership, TikTok India, in an exclusive interview with YourStory.
He talks about the platform’s expansive reach across users from all cultures and communities, many of whom are taking to the internet for the first time, and also takes us through TikTok’s notable journey in India, the challenges and opportunities in the market, the content that flies and what really is driving its virality here.
YourStory: Put TikTok’s meteoric rise in India in perspective: what really drove its adoption? Was the growth entirely organic?
Sachin Sharma: TikTok is the world’s leading short-video platform, which enables everyone to be a creator on a global stage. Since its launch, the response has been overwhelming in India. What has driven this growth is the content that is available on the platform and the opportunity that it offers users to showcase their talent and creativity. Users have varied interests and talents, and they get an opportunity to create engaging content across themes: comedy, cooking, travel, DIY, dancing, and sports, among others. Unlike any other platform, the 15-second format compels them to innovate. What sets the platform apart is that everyone is making every second count!
YS: What kind of content is flying on Indian TikTok? What are the top trending hashtags, most viewed topics, etc?
SS: We’ve seen a great uptake of local, topical trends and hashtag challenges. TikTok’s content strategy has always been to give users a chance to create local and personalised content.
Some of the most interesting trends and hashtag challenges that take the world by the storm actually come from TikTok India. Our 200+ million users here are either riffing on the trending challenges or creating a new one of their own.
YS: Throw some light on the user base and the demographic. How inclusive is TikTok compared to other social media apps?
SS: TikTok inspires over 200 million users across Tier I, II, and III and even the deepest pockets of India to share their passion and creative expression. It is a place where everyone belongs, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender or socio-economic levels. At TikTok, we always embrace diversity. And India has the most diverse set of internet users from across regions, cultures, and communities. While it is one of the biggest markets for any content-sharing platform, we believe that TikTok filled the gap by bringing people from the remotest of towns online. We are currently available in 10 major Indian languages, celebrating diversity and giving everyone a platform.
YS: How are you dealing with concerns surrounding the nature of content on the platform? There have been so many stories of the youth turning reckless in pursuit of achieving TikTok virality.
SS: The safety of users is a key priority for us. We are committed towards maintaining a safe and positive in-app environment for users along with abiding by and complying with local laws. TikTok in no way endorses or promotes content that is in violation of its comprehensive Community Guidelines, including harm to self or others. So, we have put in place protective measures by combining content moderation technology with a robust human moderation team. This team, which is based in over 20 countries and regions, now covers 36 languages, and is constantly growing (an increase of 400 percent from a year ago). In India, the moderation team covers major regional languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Gujarati, and more.
YS: Have you introduced any safety features within the app?
SS: We have 14 industry-leading features that enable our users to take complete control over their accounts to manage and decide who can engage with their content and account. The recently launched ‘device management’ feature enables them to remotely end sessions or remove accounts.
Some of the other key features include comments filter, digital wellbeing (screen-time management and restricted mode), Safety Center in 10 Indian languages, Community Guidelines, age-gate to restrict new users below the age of 13 years, Anti-Bullying resource page, among others. We even launched a safety video highlighting these features to spread user awareness.
YS: Now, with the app’s viral success, even brands have started looking at TikTok as a viable marketing and communication channel. How are you going about brand partnerships and monetisation in India?
SS: User generated content (UGC) has become the new point of entry for first time-internet users in India, making the country the largest data consumer in the world. This, in turn, has built an avenue for our existing and potential brand partners to reach out to their audience more creatively, forging a stronger connect and driving better content engagement.
We have successfully partnered with various brands in the ecommerce, FMCG, BFSI, and education space. We offer our partners a highly engaged user base that responds to creative content. Going forward, we will continue to focus on enhancing the user experience and working closely with our partner brands to build innovative advertising solutions for their campaigns.
YS: How is TikTok wooing the local government? You’ve already faced some hiccups… are things better now?
SS: As we are still in the early stages of growth in India, we are meeting relevant stakeholders on a regular basis to educate them about our products and safety measures. Recently, on International Yoga Day, we ran a campaign to raise awareness around #YogaDay2019. It received an overwhelming response from the users. Tourism is surely a focus area globally and in India as well.
We recently concluded the India edition of our global in-app travel campaign, #TikTokTravel. The local in-app campaign #YehMeraIndia was initiated to showcase India as a key global travel destination by inviting TikTok users to share their travel moments with the world. As part of the campaign, Kerala Tourism launched their official account on TikTok and is leveraging the platform to promote the State’s tourism.
YS: What will drive the next phase of TikTok’s growth in India that can add another 200 million, or more, to the user base?
SS: Mobile penetration is increasing in India and we have witnessed immense user growth from regions beyond the metros. We understand that TikTok’s popularity is not just limited to the audience belonging to certain towns or users speaking a particular language. It is pan-India. There is a great opportunity for us to tap into the next wave of 200 million-400 million users who are expected to join the internet in the next few years.
India is a key market for us and we are focused on further enhancing the in-app user experience by introducing innovative and exciting features. We believe that short, organic videos are here to stay and that it will continue to grow as users look for creative, snackable content online. By connecting and empowering digital Indians through content, we are looking forward to making a positive contribution to the country’s thriving creative economy.
YS: Lastly, in terms of business operations, how big is the TikTok team here? Do you plan to set up more offices in the country?
SS: Since we began operations here in 2017, our team has been growing. Overall, ByteDance has 500 employees in India, and this is projected to grow to over 1,000 by the end of this year, with 25 percent solely dedicated to content moderation.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)