tech

TikTok’s India story 2.0: Nurturing creators’ community, brand repositioning byte-by-byte

TikTok India head Nikhil Gandhi outlines the company’s roadmap for its India users

TikTok is now focusing on its ‘creators’ economy’
TikTok is now focusing on its ‘creators’ economy’ (REUTERS)

Jaydeep Gohil, a 25-year-old from Surat, has become a TikTok sensation. Better known as "Hydroman", Gohil performs underwater on popular songs. His unique performance has helped him gain over 4 million followers on the platform. An 18-year-old Yuvraj Singh aka Baba Jackson from Delhi gained everyone's attention when Hrithik Roshan complimented him on his 'smoothest airwalk'. Singh has nearly 3 million followers on TikTok.

Gohil and Singh are part of a growing creators' community on TikTok, the popular video-sharing application that has taken India by storm. Of late, TikTok downloads have outnumbered the established social networks such as Facebook and Instagram. Unsurprisingly, India has been one of the top contributors to these downloads. A recent Sensor Tower report says India led TikTok downloads in January 2020 at 34.4% followed by Brazil at 10.4%.

Naturally, with things going this well, TikTok is looking to ramp up its offerings in the country. The roadmap includes nurturing the creators' community which is now gaining more visibility outside the app due to an ever-increasing user base and of course, talent.

"What we've been able to do in the last one year or two years is that we've been able to give rise to a whole new generation of creators, who were just ordinary people in their earlier lives. And we have been able to create a new economy of creators outside of the fine art category, which is the filmmakers and the ad filmmakers and the TV content creators. These are just normal people who have the potential to create and express and they've been able to do it beautifully. And now some of them have become big influencers and TikTok stars," TikTok India head Nikhil Gandhi told Hindustan Times while pointing out that some of the TikTok creators have built a career on the back of this short-video sharing network. 

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While outlining TikTok's new agenda of creating a 'socio-economic impact', Gandhi said that the company is looking to diversify in newer areas which can bring value back to creators and users. This diversification includes covering a lot more topics such as fashion, lifestyle, education, nutrition, fitness and so on.

"EduTok is one of our biggest bets. We want to give it a lot more impetus in this year, you'll see a lot more programs getting rolled out not just as a content category, but the real impact on the ground," he explained.

TikTok continues to dominate the download charts, India is the largest contributor
TikTok continues to dominate the download charts, India is the largest contributor (Sensor Tower)

"For the next three years, there is a humongous amount of economic progression and social impact that is expected within India and we believe that it's the right time for us to sow the seeds. And given that the app is now progressing well, we are making sure that we are growing in a strategically right direction," he added.

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TikTok's biggest growth drivers have been users and creators in the non-metro cities of the country. Gandhi said that he wasn't very surprised by the growth of the app in smaller cities. He, however, pointed out that app allowed more visibility to these people unlike platforms like YouTube which are mainly dominated by "professional videos".

TikTok, however, faces a perception problem in the country, largely because of the nature of the content. The application suffered a brief ban in India over pornographic content. TikTok has received similar bad press for some reason or the other. Gandhi acknowledged this and said he was aware of the problem.

"All these perceptive measures get undermined because of the success of the userbase… we are working on making sure that we have the reason for people to believe who we are. There is that purpose that has not been defined. Rightly, whether it's through any kind of brand marketing or any kind of outreach program. We've done a lot of stuff with government programs and initiatives such as TikTok for Good and EduTok. And there's so much happening, but a lot of people don't know about it. So, now we are making sure that we bring this out to people at large that we are a lot more," he said.

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Even as TikTok has grown in popularity, several applications with similar look and feel have mushroomed on the web. Even the likes of Facebook have been scrambling to recreate a similar interface and standalone application. Gandhi said that he was not worried about others eating away at TikTok's subscriber base.

"I think more than eating away from our subscriber base, what these platforms have suddenly realized is the power of byte size content and the power of particular format, right? And so they've infiltrated the platform from that perspective. Yes, there are some people have copied our user interface. But everything boils down to the quality of content. You can build a user interface, you can create a vertical format. But if you don't have the right kind of engagement and the right kind of content quality, I don't think you can succeed. Our success is because of our users and because of our creators," he commented.