Smart, savvy, and social: Democratizing content creation for the next billion

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The year 2020 will be remembered as, among many things, an era of massive transformations across sectors. Key among them is the way social media content is being created and consumed in India.

Developments in live video streaming, artificial intelligence (AI), the rising number of smartphone users, and the low prices of data have led to a new breed of social media platforms that have evolved from being generic text- and image-based to platforms that host smartphone-centric, video-first, vernacular language-friendly content. They have a highly community-oriented approach to seeking users that share common interests, and leverage AI and machine learning to provide content customized to user preferences. Given this targeted approach, such platforms are well positioned to capture a significant market share of India’s smartphone users, which is projected to reach 760 million1 in 2021.

To dive deep into the current landscape of India’s social media platforms, YourStory, India’s biggest and definitive platform for startups and entrepreneurs in collaboration with Akamai, the intelligent edge platform for securing and delivering digital experiences, presents the report “Smart, savvy, and social: Democratizing content creation for the next billion”. The report provides a brief description of emerging short-video-based social media platforms, the various factors that led to the transformation of India’s social media content landscape, the challenges that the sector faces, and the solutions that can be implemented to take advantage of the opportunities that the new digitally savvy world presents. The report will also make a case for why such platforms are poised to capture a significant market share of India’s social media landscape.

The evolution of video-first social media apps

For more than a decade, Facebook has been the market leader in India’s social media landscape. As of April 2020, Facebook2 had the highest traffic, at around 86% among social media platforms across India. And while the social media giant continues to rule the roost, the year 2020 also saw the rise of several homegrown social media platforms3 that were largely centered around sharing short videos that surged in popularity in the beginning of 2019.

The modus operandi of these platforms is as follows: Users create an account to access the platform, after which they are asked to provide a list of their interests. They are then given access to a minimalist “feed” that consists of short videos. A key differentiator in such platforms is the level of engagement. No longer are users simply passive consumers of content, or limited to just replies and likes. They can put out videos of their own with a variety of filters, and even be part of live trends and challenges, and hence, rise in popularity as individuals, by creating content according to the requirements of specific hashtags.

“The rise in the consumption of content in 2020 also saw the rise of innovation and creativity. Short video apps saw exponential growth after gaining popularity. A key reason for this could be that short videos require less time to both create and watch. Chingari specifically gained popularity because of its unique features, the plethora of content in different languages that caters to all age groups, amazing video editing features, 3D effects, and filters, among others,” says Sumit Ghosh, co-founder and CEO of Chingari.

To help understand the popularity of these platforms, it helps to view the structure of these platforms under the framework of the five “Cs” that govern them, which are communication, collaboration, community, creativity, and convergence.

  • Communication: Videos as a form of communication are more intuitive and accessible as users can comfortably express themselves through the spoken word as opposed to the written word. Video-based communication also allows for communicating through one’s language of choice. This is a key reason why TikTok, one of the early players in the space, transcended India’s literacy divide to great effect4, reaching the country’s nooks and crannies, and giving a voice to millions of first-time internet users in tier 2, 3, 4, and even 5 towns. Taking cues from its success, homegrown platforms are also available in multiple Indian languages to create a more inclusive user base.
  • Collaboration: The various options for engagement on such platforms allows for users to collaborate with each other in unique ways. Users can easily create, edit, and upload videos through a smartphone; add unique filters, including augmented reality–based ones and audio bytes from popular songs; participate in challenges; and keep track of trending content from hashtags on these platforms. Such features allow for the creation and spread of a regular stream of highly engaging and creative content that leads to a higher rate of adoption. Features, like the ability to create “duets” and response videos by creating a video alongside a previously posted video, also allow for greater collaboration between influencers (many of whom may be exclusively engaged with a platform) and regular users, thus reducing the divide between the two on such platforms.
  • Community: From lifestyle to social commerce, and from health and fitness to entertainment, users on most of these homegrown platforms are engaging and interacting with content that caters to their specific interests. Exploring this commonality is instrumental to building a community of users on the platform.
“It’s amazing to see how virtual and online collaboration have grown over time. To facilitate this, Chingari has always believed in providing seamless user journeys to assure a great user experience. While it is still in early stages, the Chingari community will be an idea to facilitate communication and engagement around users’ shared beliefs and interests, specific purposes, and needs,” says Ghosh.
  • Creativity: Right from framing the shot to experimenting with dialogue and music, “short videos” as a medium of expression allow for infinite variations and creativity. Platforms also continually update their arsenal of filters, graphics, and other features that keep users engaged and provide them with a chance to explore their creativity to the fullest.
  • Convergence: Over time, such platforms go viral, either through word of mouth or other references, and acquire a critical number of users that share common interests. Due to the network effect, such social media platforms become hubs for particular topics of interest to large groups of users. As a result, the fear and risk of missing out on the latest information, trends, and developments in a particular area of interest are compelling reasons for new users to get onboarded to these platforms. This is in a way very similar to the way Facebook acquired its users.
“Network effects are critical for any content platform to grow sustainably. We are already seeing signs of it with our CAC getting reduced month on month, primarily driven by over a 40 percent organic increase in Whatsapp and Telegram shares of our content pieces. The proposition around creator economy and enabling consumers to interact with their favorite local creators using closely knit features of the platform have ensured this. This has also enabled our platform to emerge as credible for peer-to-peer financial transactions. In fact, we are reaching close to 50,000 peer to peer transactions per month,” says Varun Saxena, CEO and Founder, Bolo Indya.

Growth catalyst: India embracing digital-first mindset

The past few years have seen a reduction in the prices of cellular data and smartphones in India, leading to exponential growth in the number of internet users. As of October 2020, the number of internet users in India was around 700 million. By 2025, this number is projected to grow to over 974 million1 users.

Data also shows that this user base is spending more and more time online, including on social media platforms. By 2021, it is estimated that there will be around 448 million5 social network users in India, with an average of 17 hours being spent on these platforms each week.

Growth catalyst: India’s digital advertising market

The digital segment of media and entertainment (M&E) is expected to become the second-largest M&E segment in India, behind TV, by 20225. The digital advertising industry, which was at Rs 13,683 crore in 2019, is expected to grow6 to Rs 28,249 crore by 2022, growing at 27.42% CAGR as compared to the overall advertising industry’s growth at 11.83%. By 2022, advertising spends on mobile devices are expected to reach a share of 64% of digital ad spends, up from 47% in 2019. This presents a tremendous opportunity for New Age social media platforms to target a significant slice of the advertising revenue pie.

“Today ShareChat is emerging as the preferred online destination for Indian internet users. We have a phenomenal 160 million-strong monthly active user community, spending over 31 minutes on the platform daily. Moj, our short video platform, has already become the leading player in less than 200 days, with 80 million monthly active users and an average daily time spent of 34 minutes,” says Ankush Sachdeva, CEO and co-founder, ShareChat.
Key challenges governing market share

The growth opportunities for social media platforms are immense, and they need to also be able to differentiate themselves in what is becoming a highly competitive space. While quality content that can be effortlessly played without interruptions is what brings users onto a platform, the smoothness of the user experience and the security of their data are what develop the trust in order to bring users back to the platform repeatedly. And quite rightly so: Use of the right technology stack can play a pivotal role in achieving this sustained growth.

Below are the necessary aspects that social media platforms should double down on in order to differentiate themselves, and gain and sustain market share:

Best-in-Class Performance: In today’s mobile-first, cloud-first world, consumers expect fast and reliable access to digital content. A vast percentage of the growth for social media platforms is through users in tier 2 and tier 3 towns across the country. Ensuring that the content is delivered at the highest quality, regardless of the location of the user, is more important than ever before — especially in the current scenario when platforms are heavily invested in acquiring and retaining users. For the past two decades, Akamai has helped media and entertainment customers to deliver optimal video delivery and user engagement regardless of the physical location or network conditions. Akamai’s massively distributed integrated platform for secure cloud delivery, not just in metro cities but also in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, ensures that, in most cases, they are just a network hop away from a user. That puts Akamai in a unique position to help these New Age social platforms deliver a seamless experience to users everywhere.

Unmatched Scale: The success of today’s social media platforms, like the social media platforms that preceded them, relies on their ability to support millions of users accessing them at any given time. This is crucial for the sustainable growth of such platforms, given that users can easily avail the services of competing apps/platforms with just the click of a button. With Akamai’s unparalleled scale and resiliency with presence in over 4,100 locations across more than 130 countries and nearly 1,500 networks, social media platforms can achieve on-demand scale to cater to audiences without worrying about virality of content or spikes in viewership — whether broadcasting content to the largest audiences or personalising it for each individual user. Testimonial to this is the fact that Akamai supports more than 50 social media platforms globally. Even when the stakes are the highest, the size and reliability of the Akamai Intelligent Edge Platform means critical content is delivered with consistency, quality, and security across every device, every time.

Uncompromised Security: Today’s businesses require global threat protection that surrounds the entire application architecture — without slowing them down. Also, a central element to building trust among users on a platform is the assurance that access to their profiles is strictly controlled by them. When it comes to cybersecurity, Akamai has the most comprehensive portfolio of solutions, which range from solutions that secure digital properties/assets of a platform from large-scale attacks such as DDoS attacks, to protecting against content piracy and credential abuse — and further on, solutions that protect user data from cyberthreats. Akamai customer identity and access management (CIAM) brings with it benefits such as user profile and preference management, limiting data exposure with scoped access control, and multi-factor authentication, among others. Akamai’s content security solutions help M&E customers prevent piracy, stop unauthorized access, and maximize monetization opportunities at scale.

Akamai — the Competitive Edge: Widespread availability of online video content — facilitated by factors like ubiquitous high-speed data connectivity, digital devices, and living room experiences — are all playing their part in the growth of video content consumption online. As online video viewership continues its march to digital media and social platforms, viewer expectations around the quality of experience are also maturing. Increased video streaming choices and the low barriers to switching providers are leading viewers to churn, especially if the viewing experience is poor. For social media platforms whose primary business objectives are to grow and retain their audiences, the quality of experience delivered on the platform has a tangible impact on the viewer’s perception and engagement with the brand.

Akamai secures and delivers digital experiences for many of the world’s largest companies, and remains the most pervasive edge platform to serve content from locations close to users for the lowest latency and highest quality. The company uses intelligent routing to bypass internet bottlenecks and manages its own private global network backbone to avoid congestion and help its customers ensure user experiences are fast and reliable. Akamai offers reliability to customers backed by a 100% availability SLA. Its media delivery solutions enable enterprises to execute their digital media distribution strategies by addressing volume and global reach requirements, improving the end-user experience, boosting reliability, and reducing the cost of internet-related infrastructure.

Conclusion

As falling prices of data and smartphones bring in more internet users, the social media space in India has become highly competitive. New entrants seek to onboard and retain the maximum number of users by building platforms that offer a highly engaging and customized user experience. And while innovation and unique product offerings will be central to gathering new users, the market leader will be defined by who has a robust infrastructure in place to provide a high-quality and secure experience to its users.

To see what you can do together with the global edge leader, visit Akamai’s intelligent platform page to learn how Akamai can become your competitive edge.

‍To decode the role of such platforms in shaping India’s social media landscape, YourStory is hosting “Smart, Savvy, and Social: Democratizing Content Creation for the Next Billion” in association with Akamai. This virtual event will feature industry leaders of this nascent space, talking about the factors that have led to their growth, their strategies for differentiation, the opportunities for innovation, and future contours, among other aspects. Register now.

Sources

1) Statista | Smartphone users in India 2015-2025: https://bit.ly/3sxfwG1

2) Statista | Leading social media sites across India in April 2020: https://bit.ly/3oW6cJB

3) YourStory | Chingari, Roposo, Bolo Indya — homegrown social media apps that are helping users monetise online content: https://bit.ly/3bO49n7

4) YourStory | Why Chinese app TikTok became a rage in India and how the govt’s ban impacts people”

https://bit.ly/38QJpcH

5) Sannam S4 | Digital and Social Media Landscape in India: https://bit.ly/3bPwuK4

6) Dentsu Aegis Network | Digital Advertising in India 2020: https://bit.ly/3qxm3Ps

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