Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Social Media

Celebrities, cricket and non-English content – Helo's potent mix for India

As Helo makes a major push for user acquisition with a national campaign, we catch up with the platform's head of entertainment Chhandita Nambiar.

Chinese internet giant ByteDance's India-first non-English social media platform Helo (launched in June 2018), just launched its first multimedia brand campaign. The campaign title 'Helo Pe Milo' also doubles up as its new tagline, and translates to 'meet on Helo'. As far as numbers go, the platform, today, has an over 50-million-strong user base, which is "growing well".

Regional language social media apps, like Helo, ShareChat and Roposo, are basking in the glory of rapidly growing mobile internet user base in India. It has given rise to newer fragmented categories, like dedicated Indian language social media platforms. The size of the opportunity, today, stands at around 500 million users, almost a third of the country's population.

The likes of Helo are out to grab share from veterans like Facebook, while also making an effort to be the first love of social media and internet users. Experts suggest that the next wave of internet users will originate in lower-tier cities, small towns and rural India. A KPMG study suggests that Indian language internet users could account for almost 75 per cent of the country's total internet user base by 2021.

Helo's main competitor ShareChat is backed by Twitter and boasts a user base of 60 million (as per report ET from August 2019). An HT Mint report from January 2019 pegs the number at around 40 million users. Another rival is Roposo, which was originally launched in July 2014 as a fashion-based social network, before shifting to videos in 2017.

Apart from India, Helo also has Indian language users in 13 global markets. It facilitates content creation, much like its sibling platform TikTok, while adding a social and community twist with sharing and following options. The platform also provides in-app stickers, templates, among other tools, to boost creation.

Screen grab from Shayari ad
Screen grab from Shayari ad
Screen grab from 
Hostel ad
Screen grab from Hostel ad
Screen grab from cricket ad
Screen grab from cricket ad
Screen grab from Akhada ad
Screen grab from Akhada ad

Helo, like ShareChat, also ran 'referral bonus' campaigns to acquire users in the past. Referring new users on the platform earned a small monetary reward, usually below Rs 50.

The new campaign is aimed at boosting acquisition, and the ad films are set in the backdrop of non-metro India.

The campaign includes four ad films, which build on five key messages:

  • The platform's extremely wide TG encompassing both the youth and senior citizens.

  • The brand's nudge to users to create content.

  • An assurance that one's never too old for social media.

  • Following popular trends and their influencers of choice.

  • Its social nature of communication across friends and family.

The films have been crafted by Helo's creative agency Leo Burnett. While the Helo app offers 14 languages, including Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and others, the campaign will be adapted in nine languages across geographies and mediums. A lot of the platform is built on trends sourced around celebrities (both regional and national), and cricket.

In a chat with afaqs!, Chhandita Nambiar, head of Entertainment, Helo, says that the strength of the platform lies in its celebrity interactions and user communities. The brand has also launched IPs like Friday Fever (interaction-based celeb chat show) and Fan Meets (connecting celebs with fans). The platform provides a mix of PGC (Professionally Generated Content) produced by professionals, OGC (Occupationally Generated Content) by content creators, and UGC (User Generated Content) in regional languages. Among the most popular content categories are celebrities, cricket, food and 'shayari'.

Chhandita Nambiar
Chhandita Nambiar

"Speaking of entertainment as a category, we have had almost 250 movie tie-ups for the platform in the last one year. We're getting celebrities from not just Bollywood, but across regional languages on the platform, while facilitating interactivity. The engagement level has been very high," Nambiar says.

Helo comes from the same stable that houses UGC powerhouse TikTok. So, we asked Nambiar about the in-house knowledge sharing at ByteDance. "Though we are owned by the same company, we are two different and individual platforms. Every product is individual and that's how ByteDance treats each product and has kept each different," she responds.

Helo has also come under fire from social groups, which raised allegations that the platform facilitated sharing of vulgar content. On this, Nambiar says, "Apart from the existing safety features on Helo, we also work with internationally acclaimed fact checkers to review prevalence of fake news, misinformation, on the platform. Our moderation system that combines state-of-the-art technology with a strong local content moderation team and community guidelines available in 14 Indian languages. Some of our other security features include in-app reporting, privacy settings, restricted mode, parental control and comments filter. These provide better control."

While Nambiar says that the way ahead is an equally represented Indian language internet, it's not a challenge. "We look at it as an opportunity."

Celebrities, cricket and non-English content – Helo's potent mix for India

However, Facebook, the social media giant with over 260 million users in India (says Statista), is also trying to tap into the regional markets by making itself available in over 10 Indic languages. Nambiar believes that Helo's potent combo of celebrities, content creation and wide language base would help it cosy up to users. "While we are a young brand, providing users the opportunity to create content in native languages has really helped us gain more users," she says.

The media combination for the campaign includes both digital and TV. Digital is targeted at younger audiences and those who are early adopters. The campaign will run on OTT platforms like VOOT, Hotstar, Zee5, Sony LIV, and during prime TV shows like 'The Kapil Sharma Show', 'Sa Re Ga Ma Pa', 'India's Best Dancer'. There will also be offline display.

Like most massy digital platforms, Helo is also relying on advertising as a source of revenue. Most of it is still at an experimental stage and the platform is "exploring opportunities to create value" for brand partners. Brands like Tripoto, OYO, Edureka, Nat Geo, Yatra, and India Film Project are already building their presence on the platform.