Indian political parties are counting on the popularity of short video applications such as ShareChat, Tik Tok and Helo to grab the millennial vote bank, especially the first time voters, in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Such apps have become a force to reckon with in a short timespan, prompting political parties to push their social media outreach beyond Facebook and Twitter.
ShareChat, a Bengaluru-based platform that allows users to make 30 to 90 seconds videos, is one of the first movers in the short video space in India. ShareChat is also the only short video platform where political parties—both national and regional—have official accounts.
In the light of upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2019, political parties piloted short video apps as a canvassing tool in the recent state election campaigns in Rajasthan, Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.
“Earlier we were only on larger platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But we have noticed a lot of young crowd flocking new platforms like ShareChat. We debuted on Instagram and then followed up with ShareChat,” said Dileep Kontham, Digital Media Head, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). TRS swept the elections in Telangana - a four-year-old state.
Apart from TRS, parties such as Indian National Congress, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), Aam Admi Party (AAP), YSR Congress and Jana Sena Party have official accounts on ShareChat. The supporters and local leaders of these parties also have handles on Tik Tok, Like and similar applications.
Hyderabad-based Samosa Labs, a major competitor of ShareChat, missed out on the opportunity to tack political parties on to their platform during the state elections. Founder Abhilash Inumella said Samosa Labs failed to reach out to the parties on time. The company approached BJP and INC, the two biggest national parties, just two weeks before the election.
ShareChat’s daily active users skyrocketed from five million in May to over eight million in September this year, according to media reports. Farid Ahsan, co-founder of ShareChat, did not respond to our interview request.
Samosa Labs claimed to have a million daily active users on its platform that supports six languages. ShareChat supports 14 local languages.
“One of the biggest criteria to choose one platform over the other is the number of people using them. Secondly, we also want to ensure the platform has serious users who would sit up and take notice. We consider these two parameters before launching an official account on any of these platforms,” Kontham explained.
Kontham claimed TRS party has a firm footing on Twitter.
“Each platform has its USP aso to how they work and wield the user demographic. While Twitter is an elite platform, Facebook and WhatsApp appeal to everyone alike.
“With Sharechat, we have a good success story. Compared to Facebook and Twitter, it’s not a big number, but we have over 4000 followers on ShareChat. On Facebook, we have over a million followers,” he said.
TRS is internally testing short video apps such as Helo and TikTok to find new ways to push content. “We will keep monitoring newer social media platforms and whenever we think a platform has the numbers that we are looking at we would open our accounts on these platforms,” Kontham said.
Inumella also acknowledged ShareChat’s dominance in regional areas.
“ShareChat has dense audience in few regions where it is uniquely positioned. And if a platform can reach that level of regional and hyperlocal content and give local MLAs and MPs the sort of visibility required, it will be in demand,” Inumella said. Samosa Labs, although missed the boat in the state elections, will aggressively target and create value proposition for parties in 2019 general elections, said Inumella.
Short video apps are here to stay
Short video apps have high grass-root level penetration as the bulk of the content is in the regional language.
“Although the quality of discussion on platforms such as Twitter is of high quality, its reach in regional areas is almost negligible. The reason Twitter and Facebook have been the darling of political parties is its two-way communication feature. Short video apps also have that feature, but the added advantage of these platforms is their ability to get local leaders directly broadcast their message to regional voters,” said Anand Lunia, founder and partner, India Quotient.
Mumbai-based Venture Capitalist firm India Quotient was one of the early backers of ShareChat. However, India Quotient partly gave up its equity in September at 25-30 times return, according to media reports. India Quotient has also invested in another short video app, Clip.
ShareChat raised USD 100 million in September led by Chinese VC firms Shunwei Capital and Morningside Ventures along with Jesmond Holdings, an affiliate VC fund of DST Global. Existing investors including Xiaomi, SAIF Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participated in the funding round.
Gurgaon-based Bobble AI Technologies provides Indic keyboard in local languages. The three-year-old start-up has also entered partnerships with political parties ahead of the national elections.
Once downloaded, Bobble keyboard becomes the default setting for messages, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. The app makes the recommendation to replace text (happy birthday, I love you etc.) with GIFs, emoticons, pictures and stickers. It also allows users to create digital avatars by morphing selfies.
Ankit Prasad, founder, Bobble AI Technologies said the company had partnered with almost all political parties for Rajasthan and Telangana elections.
“If anyone says something about a political party, leader or an issue such as infrastructure and sanitation during election period we throw content of specific political parties who want to target these keywords. Media content such as emojis and GIFs of these political parties would come on top,” Prasad said.
Bobble has both sponsored and homemade emojis, GIFs and stickers of political leaders based on their popularity.
The company claims around 60% of its five million users are concerned about the election and share political content at least once a week.
“We work on a cost per share and impression model. We make money from visibility (number of impressions) and shares,” Prasad said.
He believes his company is creating mini brand ambassadors (users with 100-200 followers) for political leaders. Instead of hiring a celebrity, Prasad said, politicians can use influencer marketing to target voters with these mini ambassadors.
Meanwhile, none of the short video apps such as Kwai, Helo, TikTok, Samosa, ShareChat, Like and Clip, have managed to monetise their platform.
Since most of the users are millennials, such platforms also give politicians an opportunity to reach out to them directly.
“These apps are mostly popular among youngsters. Since youngsters have an open mind and they don’t have any historical baggage of being affiliated with any party, they keep changing their opinion. It’s a sweet spot for political parties to target individuals early in their voting journey,” Prasad said.