India’s TikTok stars can survive the ban—if they diversify

What next?
What next?
Image: Reuters/REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
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The Narendra Modi government’s decision to ban TikTok has left thousands of Indian content creators in the lurch.

The short-form video sharing platform, which took India by storm a couple of years back, gave rise to a whole new breed of celebrities in the country: the TikTok stars.

Besides enjoying massive fan following on the Bytedance-owned app, these creators have been earning from TikTok via brand endorsements. Some even left their stable jobs to create content on TikTok.

TikTok’s appeal

The ease of shooting and editing videos on TikTok worked in its favour. The app also rewards authentic content made by people from different strata of society. Over the years, TikTok added 14 regional Indian language options, which further added to its popularity.

The app’s diverse user base caught the attention of brands like apparel retailer Zara, personal care products seller Clean & Clear, sportwear brand Puma, and beverage maker Pepsi, who work with content creators on TikTok for digital advertising.

Several creators told Quartz that their reach via TikTok is unparalleled.

“Tiktok is very easy to access in the most remote locations, and it’s very easy to use,” 23-year-old Adil Khan, who has over 3.8 million TikTok followers, told Quartz. “Instagram and YouTube can be elitist but TikTok is a very simple entertainment app.” Khan has only 180,000 followers on Instagram.

Similarly, Nidhi Kumar, 24, has 130,000 followers on Instagram but 1.2 million on TikTok. The dancer posts around six videos on TikTok daily, which typically get a cumulative half a million views. “The way you can reach the masses with TikTok is next level,” she said. Kumar gets up to 40% of her income from social media via TikTok, second only to her earnings from Instagram.

Even as individual creators’ earnings take a hit due to the ban in India, experts believe this is short-term and the overall digital marketing landscape in the country won’t change. After all, TikTok still made for only a sliver of the advertising pie since its user base was skewed towards youngsters, said Rik Paul, associate professor of marketing at BML Munjal University. Close to 42% of TikTok’s active user base in India was 16-24 years of age who wouldn’t make big purchase decisions, Paul added.

“Talent isn’t platform-bound,” said Maddie Amrutkar, founder of Mumbai-based PR and marketing agency Glad U Came. “Influencers can still create content on other platforms.”

While some of the popular TikTok creators have a presence on other social media apps such as Instagram or YouTube, those “who did not diversify will feel the heat,” said Ashutosh Harbola, founder and CEO of influencer-marketing firm Buzzoka.

Eggs in several baskets

On June 30, Comedian Vir Das and content creator Kusha Kapila lamented the loss felt by the TikTok community and encouraged them to “find a new home” and keep creating.

Luckily, several TikTok stars were already doing that.

“Take the examples of the biggest TikTokers in India. Mostly all have successful YouTube channels and their subscriber base from TikTok migrated,” Kumar points out. Awez Darbar has 2.73 million followers on YouTube and his first video is from five years ago. Former TV actor Jannat Zubair, who has garnered 1.78 million followers on YouTube, has been posting videos there for three years.

Once the ban on TikTok came into effect, some Tiktok creators saw their following on other platforms rise. For instance, on a given day, Kumar gains between 300 and 400 followers on Instagram. But the night of the ban, she got 1,200 new followers. Meanwhile, Khan got 2,000 new followers on Instagram overnight.

For those looking for apps that closely mirror TikTok’s features, several homegrown options have been popping up. “Homegrown brands like Mitron and Chingari are sitting on a huge pie, it’s all up to them how they use this as an opportunity,” Buzzoka’s Harbola said. Chingari has already been gaining traction. Then there’s also InMobi’s Reposo and Zee5’s soon-to-be-released HiPi.

But TikTok stars are not lapping up these new platforms just as yet. “At least until I know what is happening with TikTok, I’m not going to any other platform,” said Kumar.