Future-proofing social media for the next billion users: Key takeaways from this vibrant Fireside chat

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While year 2020 brought with it a host of uncertainties, the need for staying connected remotely has had a significant impact on the growth of social media platforms. This growth, however, was in the making for a few years in India, thanks in part to falling prices of smartphones and data, and easier access to new technologies. 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 million users.

These growing numbers have paved the way for the rise of video-first platforms that are helping to democratise content not just in metros, but also in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. What can these platforms anticipate about the future? Will these platforms be able to sustain themselves in a constantly changing business environment?

To dive deep into the current landscape of India’s social media platforms, YourStory Media, in collaboration with Akamai, compiled the report “Smart, savvy, and social: Democratizing content creation for the next billion”. It 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.

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

To understand how social media platforms could be future-ready, YourStory, in association with Akamai Technologies, recently hosted a fireside chat with Gaurav Mishra, SVP, Product, ShareChat and Rishi Varma, Director, Media Products, Akamai Technologies on the topic of ‘Smart, Savvy and Social: future-proofing social media for the next billion’. Here are some of the key takeaways from the discussion:

Know your users, in order to bring them back repeatedly to the platform

While there are many aspects of user retention, social media platforms should ensure that their content is personalized in a way that it meets the demographic needs of the users.

“It is even more important to serve the right content to the right person at the right time. And that makes for a hard ML/AI problem,” said Gaurav Mishra, SVP, Product, ShareChat.

“There are many aspects of user retention. As we get to learn more about the user, the next phase involves personalising content in a way that it meets the demographic needs of the users”, Gaurav said, adding, “Another aspect of user retention is related to how much attention we are paying to the content ecosystem. Our teams are engaging with content creators across languages to enable the creation of original content. We have an active community exercise where we go ahead to figure out what content creators' needs are and the ideas they are working on, to ensure that we provide them the right tools and technology for them.”

“We offer different tools for them to gain more followers. Our key focus is on ensuring that the user gets the right content that's relevant to them and that creators on the platform get right tools and engagement models to create interesting content around popular trends,” he explains.

An infrastructure that's as close to the users as possible

When it comes to choosing the right platform for such applications, one of the key factors would be partnering with firms that have their infrastructure as close to users and as distributed as possible especially when users are spread across the country. “Some of our customers start out in a location, and over time expand to a regional and even to a global delivery mode. The question is how do we help them? How am I able to deliver and store content as close to my users as possible? We can upload their content quickly so that their time to publish is minimised. It's all about engineering the workflow,” said Rishi Varma, Director, Media Products, Akamai Technologies.

“Another strategy would be to use technologies that are embedded in your workflow in such a way that if there are gaps, you are able to fill them up by a process,” he added

Using tech to scale ahead

When it comes to scale, it all starts with understanding what users want. Gaurav said that when he refers to a 'user', he also includes content creators as they are an integral part of the content ecosystem.

“Things change once you target the marketplace. The problem goes from creating the right experience for a user and creator to designing one for the marketplace that matches the two on the fly, so that both the creator and the user are getting value out of their interaction. This is where the artificial intelligence and machine learning flywheel comes into play.”

Based on real-time feedback, Gaurav said that ShareChat is generating complex graphs to understand the likes and preferences of users “This ensures that we are recommending the right content to the right people.”

Picking a partner that can guarantee data security and privacy

A number of networks like ShareChat are doing a fantastic job of ensuring that the users' personal data isn't compromised. “As a network that delivers content, the data is completely secure between the user and the social network. Third parties, including Akamai Technologies, have zero visibility on the level of personalisation (of content) there is. This adds another layer of challenge for us: how do we secure content that we are blind to, and yet be able to identify it and deliver it more efficiently,” said Rishi.

He went on to explain how security mechanisms deployed at various layers can be very effective in warding off attacks. “One of the things that we at Akamai see our customers do very successfully is putting security layers right at the edge where these attacks generally originate from. If there is an invisible security shield across all traffic which filters and protects in real time without disrupting user experience, that would be a phenomenal way to approach data security. While videos are easy, what is difficult is APIs and web applications that can look very genuine, but can be very malicious. There should be a robust system that has the smarts and algorithms to determine what's acceptable and what's not.”

Balancing quality and volume of content

This is a constantly evolving challenge. “While we believe in the freedom of expression and that users are allowed to create content that they want, we also have checks and balances at ShareChat. We use Machine Learning models to figure out if the content is safe from the consumption point of view and we do it in very nuanced ways. If something needs to be blocked, we do that. For things that may require moderation, we moderate it. If something can be pushed back, we send it back to the creator with some advice about how they can make the content safe for consumption. We invest a lot in ensuring that the content is tagged correctly both algorithmically and manually," Gaurav said.

The key success factor

Finding a niche for oneself is the most important factor when it comes to success, the speakers concurred. "It's a market that everyone is trying to break into, has many players and tens of millions of users. If you are running a social media company, you need to find out a niche that you are trying to create or the differentiator that you are going to give your consumer," said Rishi. The second factor critical to social media platforms' success is how they monetise the content ecosystem. "Social selling is here to stay and everybody is already doing it. The question is how is it going to permeate everybody's life. Your ability to monetise and your monetising strategy will be critical to success," he said. Lastly, social media platforms' ability to attract and retain audience and creators can play an important role in their growth journey. "You'll be able to do that only if you can ensure a seamless experience for your consumer. This experience is not just for the process or product itself but also the technology that powers it," said Rishi.


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