Helo from TikTok: Connecting to the new times

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on June 19, 2019

The India-centric social media platform from ByteDance is now making waves across the globe

One of the most unique characteristics about social media is it’s an ever-evolving space. New players, new platforms and new ideas get added to the universe so fast that it takes some effort to cut through all the clutter and make sense of what’s hot and what’s not and, of course, who’s alive and clicking. Until a few months ago, I didn’t know much about Helo, the social media platform from ByteDance, the Chinese technology firm valued at over $70 billion, a feat that earned it the moniker, the world’s most valued startup. Rightfully billed the YouTube killer, for the sheer size and spread of it (the short video app currently commands more than 20 crore active users in India alone), TikTok is growing fast, disrupting the way user-generated content is shared on social media, triggering controversies along the way as some, including legislators from Tamil Nadu, see it as a threat to Indian culture.

Amidst the cacophony, the arrival of Helo, which ByteDance calls a game-changing social media app, didn’t get the deserved attention. ByteDance launched Helo in June 2018, with a mission to “bridge the information gap for Indians who are comfortable expressing themselves in their local language.”

What is it?

For starters, Helo is a social media platform with a difference, where you can create, upload and share a variety of content — flashcards, GIFs, short videos, music bytes, jokes, memes, status updates, wishes, quotes, poetry and news. Helo makes it extremely easy for users to categorise, search and find content of their liking with a well-curated algorithm and features such as hash-tagging. For instance, if you want to wish your dad on Father’s Day, Helo offers you several hashtags with the theme, clicking on which you can access millions of short videos, messages, motivational cards, etc, and share them among friends on Helo or across social media.

In fact, downloading and sharing content on Helo is much simpler than on many other social media platforms where content is proprietary and downloading them for third-party use is a pain. The visual platform is specifically designed for Indian mobile users who prefer their mother tongue. The focus on the vernacular is definitely going to give Helo an edge over similar apps given that local language search on most other social media platforms is a cumbersome exercise. On Helo, this is a lot simpler and the hash-tagging works really well. Media companies, brands, event managers, celebrities, influencers, almost all the who’s who of the social media world are now flocking to Helo as well, clearly signalling its potential in reaching a wider user base. Helo seems to understand the ‘Indian ways’ in which internet bandwidth functions and has enabled features such as offline play, easy downloads and so on.

Phenomenal growth

The India-focussed app is available in 14 Indian languages, including Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi, Hindi and Assamese. In fact, Helo clocked 10 lakh downloads within a month of its launch and ever since, it has been consistently ranked among the top-free apps on Google’s Play Store. The app is growing just like its more popular sibling TikTok. During the first quarter of 2019, Helo grew by more than 60 per cent to hit more than 40 million monthly active users. ByteDance is aiming big, targeting a 300 per cent growth in 2019.

The growing popularity of Helo in India has prompted ByteDance to take it to other countries. Indian communities across geographies such as the US, Canada, Singapore, Qatar, South Africa, Bangladesh, etc, can now access Helo. The app has tied-up with brands and properties popular among regional audiences to produce and monetise content shared on its platforms. For instance, Helo was the digital media partner for Bigg Boss Kannada, which enabled the app’s Kannada-speaking users to connect with the wider community of influencers.

Even though Helo got into some controversy recently for allowing fake and illegitimate content on the platform, much like the charges levelled against TikTok, the platform’s makers say Helo is also using artificial intelligence in sync with human expertise to filter content that violates its guidelines.

Published on June 19, 2019

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