What clicked for Indian social media firms these last few months? Here are 5 key takeaways

To understand how Indian social media and short-video content platforms have seen rapid growth, and to explore the road ahead, YourStory, in association with Akamai, hosted a digital roundtable ‘Build, Scale and Secure: Driving the Future of India’s Social Media’
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As India steers towards self-reliance — an Aatmanirbhar Bharat — the country’s homegrown social media apps have witnessed a huge surge in their popularity and downloads, with the recent ban on some apps also providing a fillip to their growth trajectories.

Their widespread popularity, evident from a sharp spike in their downloads across platforms, has also helped them raise capital investments to build, scale and secure their future in one of the world’s largest markets for online content.

To understand how such firms dealt with the situation so far and the road ahead, YourStory, in association with Akamai, recently hosted Build, Scale and Secure: Driving the Future of India’s Social Media — a digital roundtable featuring leaders of India’s top social media platforms – Chingari’s Sumit Ghosh, Trell’s Bimal Rebba, Mitron’s Shivank Agarwal, MX Player’s Karan Bedi, Zee5’s Rajneel Kumar and Bolo Indya’s Varun Saxena, along with Akamai Technologies’ Mitesh Jain

Here’s a look at key takeaways from the discussion.

Shifting consumer preferences and geographies

With stay-at-home trends boosting downloads of Indian social media and short-video content apps, companies also witnessed new trends across various metrics such as content consumption patterns, geographies as well as the categories of content on offer, among others.

“These five months have been a great time to see how consumers have adapted to digital consumption,” said Rajneel Kumar, Business Head – Expansion Projects and Global Head of Products at Zee5.

He further said that while consumers’ consumption had increased, brands are still playing safe with their ad spends.

From a demographics point of view, companies such as Bolo Indya experienced a big influx of content from non-Hindi, regional languages, its founder and CEO Varun Saxena said, adding that there was a noticeable increase in content from languages such as Tamil, Telugu and Bengali.

Apart from these, the pandemic and the resultant lockdown has pushed people to spend more time on the apps, which helped companies with a growth in their engagement with users. Companies also reported growth in geographies such as the eastern parts of the country, moving away from Karnataka or Kerala.

While the period boosted growth trends for companies, experts at Akamai Technologies drew attention to the rising volume of attacks and vectors. These made companies reach out to Akamai to solve specific business challenges around securing their businesses and managing the workforce, Mitesh Jain, Country Manager — Media and Carriers Division at Akamai Technologies said. The content delivery network firm also said that social media firms’ focus on localisation and aims of customer acquisitions outside of metros also helped them turn to Akamai, given its deep reach in the country.

A strong product and solid technology make a great team

Although a surge in traffic bodes well for social media giants in India, panelists largely agreed that it was a top-notch product, content and technology framework that will boost growth and retain users in such companies.

“The question is about retention (of users) being the key defining metric of any engagement platform,” Karan Bedi, CEO of MX Player said,

adding that the only way to accomplish this objective is to have a good product, content and technology in place.

While echoing these views, Sumit Ghosh, founder of the widely popular Chingari app said the company also looks to improve its customer retention and engagement activity on a daily basis.

But, at the same time, having a state-of-the-art technology framework is also necessary to support an increasingly aspirational internet consumer, Akamai’s Mitesh said, while highlighting a survey that showed reactions of people to metrics such as high-quality streaming and rebuffering.

Security should always be the top priority

For social media firms, with great growth elements come greater security threats. Speakers across the panel agreed that the focus on security must be the top priority as it builds trust between the consumer and the company, and a stronger security mechanism will only help in driving up their business. Companies must also have mechanisms for reviews and taking down content in case of violations of community guidelines or any other laws.

Underscoring this thought, Shivank Agarwal, co-founder of Mitron, highlighted that their firm undertook regular security audits along with their growth and scale activities.

“In fact, every new feature that was introduced underwent a regular security audit,” he said.

Along with audits, security of the huge volumes of data also becomes paramount from hackers and other such related risks. Trell’s co-founder Bimal Kartheek Rebba outlined how the company always ensured it saves user data in a secure location that is encrypted.

And, as more people shopped online for several products and services, securing financial transactions had also been on top of the agenda for many internet enterprises and organisations.

“Now everyone who deals with financial transactions is very concerned. Given the volume we serve daily, we developed advanced bot detections with machine learning algorithms to thwart such attacks ,” Akamai’s Mitesh said.

Having that one unique element in your product is a must

Along with great content, product and technology, one of the key things for companies to focus on is the uniqueness or the differentiation in their products or services.

Trell’s Bimal cited the instances where content formats have constantly changed over the years as companies looked to do something differently than their rivals. The ones who got the best grip on a successful and a unique format, were able to cash in the opportunity too.

Mitron’s Shivank built on these thoughts and said that the focus should also be on the needs of the consumer. “One needs to understand the consumer closely and we must talk to them about what worked and what didn’t.”

Focusing on different elements in the tech stack

While the focus on technology is one of the key functions for the company and its management, companies also need to focus on different segments to iron out hurdles and ensure a smooth progress of the growth momentum.

Against this backdrop, Bolo Indya’s Varun said choosing the right tech partner was one of the most important things.

“A correct CDN (content delivery network) partner also plays a big role. During our peak, we moved to Akamai and realised the difference on the content delivery side. Complaints about buffering and rebuffering reduced. So, it is important for you to understand about selecting the right platform.”

The hour-long conversation also saw questions from the audience about addressing new security threats, to which the panelists reiterated their comments about secured mechanisms and importance of relying on technological partners while scaling up and adhering to content privacy norms.

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