How TikTok is giving Facebook a run for its money during India’s Coronavirus lockdown

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Published: April 7, 2020 12:18 PM

TikTok has become India’s number one downloaded social media app, during the country’s ongoing coronavirus lockdown. How that has come to be, is a surprise. But if you ask TikTok, they’d tell you, it’s still business as usual.

TikTokTikTok was the most downloaded social media app in India during the first quarter of 2020. (Photo Credit: Reuters)

TikTok needs no introduction, especially in India. Even though the bite-sized video sharing platform, that comes from China’s ByteDance, has had its fair share of negative press, it has (still) managed to march on unfazed, letting its service — of connecting people spanning across all demographics — do much of the talking. And it is that focus that is helping TikTok give (even) the behemoth Facebook, a run for its money.

Case in point, TikTok was the most downloaded social media app in India during the first quarter of 2020, according to data released by mobile data and analytics firm App Annie. For some more perspective, TikTok has become India’s number one downloaded social media app, during the country’s ongoing coronavirus lockdown. Which means, people in India have been choosing to download TikTok over WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram. How that has come to be, is a surprise. But if you ask TikTok, they’d tell you, it’s still business as usual.

Financial Express Online spoke exclusively with TikTok to understand how it came to be so ‘viral’ in India and how its growing popularity brings added responsibility in these challenging times. Excerpts.

— Could you talk about TikTok’s journey in India – ups, downs and major challenges? How does TikTok see India as a market?

India is an important market for us. A key focus area for us has been to ensure that our over 200 million users get access to interesting, innovative and fun content and that global and Indian users, creators and celebrities continue to add to the content diversity of the platform. In addition to our focus on contributing to India’s creative economy, we aim to empower this new generation of digital users to help make a real social impact.

TikTok’s mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy. Intuitive and easy to use, the platform has given a rise to a new generation of entertainers, content creators and artists. On TikTok, short-form videos are exciting, spontaneous, and authentic. It is no surprise that Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities are also catching on this trend and exploring the platform to share their fun side. We expect more celebrities and creators across categories including sports, food experts and top chefs on the platform.

— Would you say TikTok is now successful, or more precisely, viral in India? Please share some numbers.

As the world embraces the smartphone era, bringing about shorter attention spans and a change in behavior of creating and consuming content, TikTok becomes the preferred platform for creative expression, given its lowered boundaries for sharing, creating, discovering — all made easy on mobile. India is a mobile-first country, which means that most Indians connect to the digital world through mobile technologies like smartphones. An entire generation that spans across all demographics has not used a desktop or a laptop to get on the internet. This new wave of internet users are changing the trend of content creation, sharing and consumption.

As an inclusive platform, TikTok empowers users across the country to be their authentic selves. Moreover, the bite-sized format of videos that are exciting and authentic, makes it easy for users with in-built editing tools to find, create, share and enjoy content that’s entertaining and relatable. This is also evident with the diverse content available on the platform and new emerging categories.

Some of our popular content categories include food (#TikTokChef- 142 million views), health and fitness (#HomeFitness- 780 million views and #PlankChallenge- 934 million views), video memes (#DesiMemes- 471 million views and#WorkFromHome- 913 million views), fashion (#1MinLook- close to 2 billion views, #ShoeChallenge- 909 million views, and #FashionWeek- 1.2 billion views) along with the ongoing #GharBaithoIndia (6.1 billion views) initiative to encourage users to stay positive and at home.

— Considering how popular TikTok is, do you also see this as a big responsibility, especially in these challenging times?

As a digitally responsible company, promoting a safe and positive in-app environment is our top-most priority. We have zero tolerance for content that violates our Community Guidelines including harm to self or others. As we continue to evolve in India, the product has become more mature and a lot of energy has gone into ensuring that we are offering our users a world-class experience that is backed by strong safety features and guidelines.

To further our commitment to safety, earlier this year, we added more clarity to our community guidelines to let our users know what is not allowed on the platform. We’ve also invested in educating users about responsible online conduct. All these factors have jointly helped make us a credible app that inspires individuals to use it. Over the last few months, we’ve had several campaigns dedicated to promoting safe online behaviour:

  • #MeraInternet: We continuously engage with our users to encourage users to use the internet to spread positivity and do good. As part of the campaign, we inspired the TikTok community to create thought-provoking short videos; take a pledge for internet safety; and participate in a quiz to reflect on their online behavior.
  • #WaitASecToReflect: Our first safety brand campaign was developed with the mission to inspire users to pause for a second and think about their online conduct. The campaign garnered over, 981 million views.

How is TikTok addressing the whole coronavirus situation? How are you using your reach to urge TikTok-ers to stay in and stay safe? 

While everyone is adhering to the lockdown in India, at TikTok, our focus is on bringing people together. To help people cope with such difficult times, TikTok has launched the #GharBaithoIndia  campaign which urges people to be at their creative best while at home – on their own or with family and spread positivity. The campaign has been receiving great response from the user community including celebrities and popular creators such as Shilpa Shetty, Riteish Deshmukh, Yo Yo Honey Singh, Aariz Sayed, and Shivani Kapila. Further, to ensure that the users receive correct information, in partnership with the World Health Organization and Government of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, TikTok has introduced an in-app informational page. The page is pinned at the top of Discover tab and contains answers to common questions, offers tips on staying safe, and dispels some of the myths about coronavirus.

The World Health Organization, UNDP, BMC, IFRC and UNICEF are some of the entities now using TikTok to share useful content and shed light on how to stay safe. These organizations are taking their own steps to increase people’s awareness about coronavirus. WHO, has uploaded a number of videos about various facts related to the virus and how it is transmitted, as well as busting several viral rumours. They even do live streams regularly.

At the same time, many law enforcement agencies like Bangalore police, Delhi Police, Uttrakand Police, Kerala Police, Durg Police , Punjab Police, Maharashtra Police are all using the platform in a unique manner by creating songs, skits, memes or just advisory videos to reach out to the masses and create awareness around covid. The official account of the Bengaluru Police on TikTok, which has 123.7k followers and 931k likes, has uploaded a number of videos which attempt to spread awareness. Recently, Maharashtra CMO Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray and the Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan took to the platform to spread the message of safety and importance of staying indoors.

— Could you talk about your recent move to lower video quality to reduce stress on mobile internet? Can too much TikTok actually break the internet?

As India has collectively moved towards social distancing, and we believe that people at home will spend more time on the internet. Our platform is a place where our users create, share and enjoy video content, however we are also conscious of the pressure on network infrastructure and capacity, as overall internet consumption increases at this point.

In light of this, as a responsible platform, we have made a voluntary decision to efficiently manage traffic and eliminate high definition and ultra- high definition quality videos to ensure that data load for telecom networks are effectively reduced.

— Does TikTok really have any competition in India? What sets you apart from competition — if any?

TikTok’s increasing user base, is indicative of the platform being the primary choice of users even in the remotest parts of the country. Our immersive product experience with localized, personalized content recommendations powered by machine learning algorithms, as well as easy-to-use tools is what sets us apart from the competition. With a focus on bringing out creativity of our user base, we are constantly making our product better, based on their feedback.

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