Staff Reporters
Jul 1, 2020

TikTok ban in India: What does this mean for influencer marketing?

SOUNDING BOARD: TikTok is among the top three platforms in India for influencer content and the impact of the ban, experts say, could be transformative.

Members of the Working Journalist of India (WJI) hold placards urging citizens to remove Chinese apps during a demonstration against the Chinese newspaper Global Times, in New Delhi on June 30, 2020. Source: Getty Images
Members of the Working Journalist of India (WJI) hold placards urging citizens to remove Chinese apps during a demonstration against the Chinese newspaper Global Times, in New Delhi on June 30, 2020. Source: Getty Images

The Indian government yesterday (June 30) banned TikTok—along with 58 other mostly Chinese-owned apps—citing security risks related to India's sovereignty. Following that, TikTok has defended its data privacy and security provisions in India, and it has since been invited by the government to present clarifications.

The move comes amid tense Sino-Indian relations following deadly troop clashes along the Chinese and Indian Himalayan border

We approached influencer marketing and social media agencies in India to gauge national sentiment. Many praised the move, citing that this will result in more users turning to Indian apps.

Direct home-grown competitors like Chingari, for instance, applauded the move and urged users to try its video app instead. "This is a very good step taken by the government of India and the IT Ministry of India,” Sumit Ghosh, Chingari's co-founder and chief product officer told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "We are happy that this step has been finally taken."

A few, meanwhile, were concerned about influencer content being wiped out overnight and the ban impinging on users’ freedoms.

Currently, TikTok claims 200 million users in India, including 120 million monthly active users. According to SenseTower, installations in India contributed about 44% of TikTok's total downloads in September 2019.

Vaibhav Odhekar, managing director of India and the Middle East, AnyMind Group and co-founder of POKKT

We are now living in a globalised world and any action like this should be more thought-out. Governments can and should suggest a line of thinking and as mature citizens, the choice of what to choose or not to choose should be placed onto the individuals.

In this same vein, mobile apps, no matter the origin, are created to fulfil a need or want from users, and there is necessary third-party infrastructure to ensure safety and security. We look forward to a quick resolution of the situation, which will ultimately benefit everyone and provide learning for building stronger foundations for app developers, advertisers and users.

Olivier Girard, head of APAC, Digimind

Within India, public discussions around the TikTok boycott alone spiked by approximately 22 times overnight (between 28 - 29 June 2020). The majority of netizens appear to be discussing the root causes behind this move, or outrightly supporting it.

Regardless of whether it’s a western giant or an up and coming Chinese competitor, social media platforms and the businesses and influencers that associate with them no longer exist in isolation from the local political landscape. After all, consumers are increasingly gravitating towards brands that take a stand on political and social issues, with 87% buying from companies that share their cause.

Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO, Socialbakers

With more than 200 million users in India, TikTok is the most downloaded app in the country. It has become a central part of popular culture, especially with the younger demographic, with some TikTok celebrities boasting tens of millions of followers. Banning the app is likely to cause outrage and anger with its users.

The fact that the move to ban Chinese apps happens at the same time as the border conflicts between India and China means that it's the users—for whom platforms like TikTok and WeChat have become a part of their daily lives—will be the ones feeling the fallout from the political friction. The impact won't only be on the Indian side.

Chinese technology companies like ByteDance and Tencent will also feel the loss of users and the potential loss of revenue. With a population of 1.35 billion, India boasts a high volume of social media users and brand advertisers.

Deepa Bhatia, general manager, YouGov India

TikTok, one of the most widely used apps in India, has been in a negative spotlight in the last quarter. The multiple issues faced by the platform have adversely affected its perception among users. Data from YouGov BrandIndex shows over the last quarter that TikTok’s Buzz score declined by around 20 points leading it to the negative territory.

The same is true for the brand’s Impression score that also witnessed a 14-point decline. Naturally, the plummeting scores have dramatically affected the overall brand health and the current ban is likely to further strengthen the negative sentiment around the brand.

Pranay Swarup, CEO and co-founder, Chtrbox

It's very unfortunate for creators who might have lost all their hard work overnight, but we think that the best creators will be able to replicate their successes on other platforms. I think we will see many smaller, niche platforms pick up most of the users from Tiktok, Helo & Likee, such as Sharechat, Roposo, and Trell.

We also aren't sure yet if this will be a permanent ban, but for now, this is a good opportunity for the Make in India movement and gives an opportunity for homegrown apps to shine. Regardless of the outcome, we don't think this will ultimately impact the industry long term. Our core belief has always been that platforms can change but people with influence will remain a constant. 

Irfan Khan, partner, Yaap

This has the potential to transform the app and entertainment landscape in India. While TikTok catered to audiences across the country, Helo and Likee are extremely popular with Indians looking for regional and vernacular content.

The ban of these apps has created an immediate vacuum as users will be looking for substitutes. One can already see this happening as apps like Chingari, Roposo and Mitron saw a huge spike in downloads right after the announcement—as high as 1,00,000 per minute. The Indian app ecosystem has a big opportunity knocking on their door and the question is if they can capitalise on this.

In the short-term, we can expect leading social sharing platforms like Instagram and YouTube further strengthen their position in India as an effective channel for both brands as well as influencers.

Maddie Amrutkar, founder, Glad U Came

The fallout of India’s decision to ban TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps is a good decision, to an extent. The reason behind doing the same was termed as prejudicial to sovereignty, integrity and national security.

The decision taken to protect millions of internet and mobile users in India has raised debates of all sorts. I believe that it will help India be more secure and this could urge the development of more Indian apps.

Although banning apps like TikTok and others, where people’s livelihood was depended on would be difficult for them now. Which is why we must raise certain questions like why this wasn’t done earlier? And what about Chinese’s companies in our power/mobile sectors? Is this meant for an economic sanction and was it adequate? We can’t predict the impact across Asian borders but we hope that the tension between the two countries could ease from now on.

Ankit Agarwal, founder, Do Your Thng

The ban is more of a statement right now—a comma rather than a full stop. That’s evident from the clarification updated by TikTok India. If—and that’s a big if—the ban becomes permanent, it has the potential to change the influencer landscape significantly.

Right now, for marketers, TikTok is the space to target Gen Z-ers as 41% of its users fall in this age bracket. I feel it is one reason why brand custodians place it in the top three three platforms for influencer marketing [Instagram (94%), TikTok (52%) and YouTube (52%)]. On top of that, the app has higher engagement rates and average time spent per day than Instagram.

On the creator side, the impact will be more substantial and devastating. As Nikhil Gandhi correctly points out, TikTok gave a voice to hundreds of creators generating vernacular content in India. While most creators are savvy enough to diversify to other platforms, there will be few who stand to lose their entire body of work.

But all this is contingent on a permanent block, which in my opinion, will likely not happen.

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