Chinese App Product Managers Race To Capture Indian Users

Chinese product managers are trying to win over millions of Indian users
Chinese product managers are trying to win over millions of Indian users
Image Credit: Neha Singh

If you were the product manager for a new social media app, what would your #1 goal be every day when you went to work? There is only one answer to that question: to sign up more users for you app. Social media is all about growth. There are a number of new social media apps that are being created by Chinese companies (who else would know about what appeals to millions of people?) and they think that they may have found an untapped market. The product managers for these Chinese companies are going after users in India where there are millions of people just waiting to discover the next big social media app.

Selling Chinese Apps To Millions Of Indians

The product managers at some of China’s fastest moving social-media firms are in the process of signing up hundreds of millions of consumers in India, tech’s biggest untapped market. Their goal is to capture users who aren’t already locked into Facebook, Twitter or other American apps. The product managers work for Chinese content-sharing apps such as Bigo’s Like and Bigo Live, along with Bytedance’s Helo and TikTok, are taking off in India – a country of 1.3 billion people. In India most people are getting online for the first time using low-cost smartphones and dirt-cheap data plans. These new apps, with ad-supported models, feature hours and hours of mostly wacky and often titillating content: girls blowing kisses, brief videos of slapstick gags, patriotic songs, teens twerking to the latest Bollywood hits and more.

One of the things that these product manager have realized that their customers want are simple interfaces. Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service, with more than 200 million users, is hugely popular across many socioeconomic classes and language speakers in India. What makes WhatsApp different is that it doesn’t carry ads. YouTube, from Google, remains popular as users binge on videos. Right now some of the new Chinese apps are growing more quickly and could soon chip away at Facebook and Google’s domination of ad dollars in the country.

Product managers at Chinese companies are expanding overseas as they face slowing growth and increased censorship at home. Chinese social-media apps were downloaded more than 950 million times in India last year, three times as many as in 2017. But while Chinese giants Tencent Holdings, Alibaba Group Holding and Weibo have yet to find a foothold in India, apps such as Like are popular. The app and its sister platform, video-streaming app Bigo Live, have 69 million monthly users globally. Bigo said it would invest $100 million to expand its business in India and hire 1,000 people.

Next Steps In Capturing A Country

So just exactly how do you go about getting more Indians to use your Chinese app? The presence on the Like app of Bollywood superstars such as Ranveer Singh has added to its popularity. The way that this has happened is because Mr. Singh’s video uploads of himself dancing have amassed 4.6 million followers in four months – this is nearly half the 10.2 million fans he has on Facebook and more than a third of his 11.7 Twitter followers. Many of the Chinese apps product managers target users who are outside India’s English-speaking population of city dwellers. For example, Bytedance, a startup valued at $78 billion and backed by SoftBank Group, is going after local language speakers in smaller cities who are new to the internet and who access it almost exclusively on smartphones.

The Bytedance product managers last year launched a new app just for India called Helo. Users open it up and choose from 14 different Indian languages—but not English. Without needing to select accounts to follow, app users automatically get a simple, continuously scrolling feed that shows video clips and images that are going viral. Helo has racked up 25 million monthly users since it launched in June, and is adding an average of about 100,000 new users every day. What this means is that growth like this puts it already into the same ballpark as Twitter in India, a favorite of the country’s journalists, politicians, actors and other elite and which has about 26 million users.

TikTok, Bytedance’s short-video app, is popular around the world and has made massive gains in India. TikTok has about 260 million users in India or a quarter of its global total and close to the number of people who use the Facebook app in India. The Chinese upstarts and other newer platforms could attract advertisers’ interest as their reach grows. What the product managers realize is that there is a very large global opportunity here. India’s digital advertising market is still small, with only around $2 billion in annual revenues compared with $100 billion in the U.S. However, it is estimated that the India market could triple in the next five years.

Even as they have experienced a great deal of success, the Chinese app product managers have to be careful. With success comes some downsides. The sudden rise of China’s video-sharing superstars has, or course, triggered a backlash in India. Some local groups are worried about racy content amid New Delhi’s recent efforts to create restrictions on foreign companies in order to allow local tech companies to grow. The product managers believe that TikTok and Helo are meant for people 13 and older, and that both apps include ways users and law enforcement can report content that violates its terms. The Like app in India is meant for users 18 and older while Bigo Live users must be at least 16. Both have mechanisms for reporting content that users find to be inappropriate.

What All Of This Means For You

The world of social media apps is all about getting more people to use your app. There is a collection of Chinese product managers who believe that they may have found a way to get a lot of new users for their mobile social media applications. What they are doing is targeting users in India. With a huge population, this appears to them as being the ultimate place to grow their user base.

The potential customers in India hold a special appeal to the Chinese product managers. These customers are not already Facebook or Twitter users. Additionally, many of them are just getting online for the first time via new mobile phones. Having a simple interface is key to a new social media app’s growth. The more established social media apps already have very large user bases in India. Chinese social media apps are motivated to move into India because of censorship issues at home. The Chinese social media apps that are already in India are growing at a fast rate. Chinese product managers are attempting to grow their apps by enlisting Bollywood actors to create content. They are also producing content in non-English languages in order to attract more viewers. The more users that these applications can attract, the more money they can make from advertisers. The Chinese product managers do have to be careful because their success has caused some people to think that not everyone should have access to their applications.

The world of social media applications is a highly competitive world. A collection of product managers at some Chinese social media apps are in the process of trying to take over India. So far their products seem to be popular and they are being adopted by millions of users. However, the product managers are going to have to be careful and make sure that their new found popularity does not create a backlash among Indians. If they can manage their growth correctly, then they just might someday be as big as Facebook is…!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What can these Chinese product managers do to make sure that their users are old enough to access the apps?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

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