Facebook is strengthening its social video experience for its next phase of growth in India
Facebook's key agenda is to focus on providing social video experiences, through both Facebook Watch and InstagramPixabay
Manish Chopra, Director and Head of Partnerships, Facebook India tells us Facebook's roadmap ahead for India
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Facebook is strengthening its social video experience for its next phase of growth in India

Manish Chopra, Director and Head of Partnerships, Facebook India tells us Facebook's roadmap ahead for India
  • Recently, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook reiterated the importance of India for Facebook in its global scheme of things.
  • Over the years, Facebook has been testing and rolling out new features from here. Currently, its testing Instagram Lite in India, to make the platform accessible to everyone.
  • We spoke to Manish Chopra, Director and Head of Partnerships, Facebook India, to understand the organization’s areas of focus for the next year and how its working on making its offerings more accessible to users and more effective for businesses and advertisers.
While the world almost came to a standstill in 2020, owing to the pandemic-induced lockdown, it was digital players like Facebook that kept the world moving, even while people stayed indoors.

The pandemic led to people spending more and more time on the internet, and understandably, Facebook saw an increase in the time people were spending on their platform. According to data from eMarketer, in H1 2020, people flocked to Facebook so they could share information and keep in touch with friends and family while staying at home. That led to user increases in nearly every world region.

Currently, India has the largest user base of Facebook users. With around 272.2 million users in India in 2020, the country’s user base is expected to swell to 329.1 million by 2024. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that the company is serious about its presence and growth here.

During Facebook’s Fuel for India event recently, Mark Zuckerberg reiterated India’s importance in the global scheme of things for Facebook. During the chat, he said that the largest communities for Facebook and WhatsApp are in India and Instagram is also getting there. Facebook has been testing and rolling out new features from here. From the launch of Reels on Instagram, to Watch on Facebook and Payments on WhatsApp, India is playing a crucial role in the way products are being designed for the future. Facebook is currently testing Instagram Lite in India. The app, which is less than 2 MB in size, has been created to bring the core Instagram experience to people currently unfamiliar with the app.

The platform is also giving a push to its video offerings, opening up opportunities for advertisers and businesses to get closer to their target audience, virtually.

We recently caught up with Manish Chopra, Director and Head of Partnerships, Facebook India, to understand the organization’s areas of focus for the next year and how its working on making its offerings more accessible to users and more effective for businesses and advertisers.

Excerpts:

Q) You're currently testing Instagram Lite in India. What are your plans for taking it to the market? When will you launch it officially?
Our research conducted in India to ascertain the attractiveness and comprehension of new products showed that compromised internet experience as a result of low memory phones and heavy-sized apps was a barrier. This set the context for the test of Instagram Lite, and India is a primary test country for it. The Instagram Lite app is created to bring the core Instagram experience to people who do not have an Instagram experience today. The app is made for Android and this new version has improved speed, performance, and responsiveness. The experience is similar to the core Instagram app experience, though there are some features that are not currently supported such as Reels, Shopping and IGTV. The app will be available in Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu. However, we don’t have the timing to share on when the app will be rolled out more broadly.

Q) The pandemic led to many behavioural changes among consumers. What were some of the biggest changes you noticed during the past few months, especially in India?
In the context of 2020, there’s been a fundamental change in digital consumption, which we’ve witnessed by the engagement we’ve seen on the Facebook family of apps. In many countries hit hardest by the virus, total messaging increased by more than 50% on WhatsApp and Messenger, in March. Similarly, in places hit hardest by the virus, voice and video calling doubled on Messenger and WhatsApp. In India, there was a 60% rise in Instagram Live views in March, on a week-on-week basis.

Creators focused on keeping their communities informed and inspired. This began with social messages delivered through challenges like the #SafeHandsChallenge and the use of the ‘Stay Home’ sticker. It went on to keep people inspired, like Deepika Padukone and The Live Laugh Love Foundation released a Guide on Instagram that focussed on mental health. On Facebook, new Groups were formed to help people. These include groups like Mahita Nagaraj’s ‘Caremongers India’, a purely volunteer driven group providing frontline assistance ranging from cooked meals to transportation, to the needy, senior citizens, expecting mothers, and the physically challenged during the lockdown.

A bunch of national and regional musicians, such as Armaan Malik and Lisa Mishra, performed in Live music concerts called ‘Live In Your Living Room’ to keep people entertained and people also raised funds for COVID-19 relief efforts through our platforms. We facilitated this with the launch of Facebook Fundraisers, which has an in-live donation option too, using which creators like Varun Purthy and Ashish Chanchalani raised funds as part of Facebook Social for Good Live-athon.

The year also offered new opportunities, for instance, with short-form content, offered by new features like Reels. This has helped discover a new generation of influencers who’ve grown exponentially on Instagram. Few creators like Ankush Bahuguna and Sakshi Sindwani have also focussed on breaking stereotypes associated with gender and body types.

Q) We saw people warm up to live videos during the pandemic, artists, musicians etc used it extensively to stay connected to their fans. What will your strategy be to make sure that people keep using your live features even once they start going out and once things get back to normal?
Our community is at the heart of our platforms. We’re hearing them and constantly innovating. For e.g at the start of the lockdown, we saw the rise in Live’s and need from people to save that content to their IGTV and hence we introduced that feature.

Earlier this month, we also launched Live Rooms, which gives people the ability to go live with upto three additional people on Instagram Live. With this feature, creators have more opportunities to have conversations with their communities, and to expand their reach and use cases for Live, such as starting a talk show or a podcast, hosting a jam session or co-creating with other artists, leading to more engaging Q&As with those they’re going Live with, or simply hanging out with friends. This feature first was tested in India with creators, and then India was among the two countries it has launched in, ahead of a global rollout.

Even with Instagram Lite, the context for the launch is research done in India, where people mentioned a compromised internet experience, as a result of low memory phones and heavy-sized apps. Hence Instagram Lite is less than 2MB in size and is built to deliver an Instagram experience that remains fast and reliable for more people.

Beyond product innovation, we continue to work with public figures, creators, groups and organizations to discover opportunities where our platforms can add value to people’s lives.

Q) How are advertisers making the most out of your Social Video offerings?
Instagram launched a bunch of branded content updates at the end of November. These include:

Branded content tag on Reels and Live - To help increase transparency, the Branded Content tag has launched in Reels, and will begin testing in Live in the coming weeks.
New creation flow for Branded content ads - Until today, Branded Content ads could only be created by promoting the existing posts from creators. Instagram is now launching a new workflow where advertisers can create Branded Content ads without the need for creators to post organically on Instagram first. Now brands have more flexibility with fewer constraints when they want to run Branded Content ads. This new process has been designed with creator control in mind - creators can approve and pause any ads published from their handle.
Branded Content ads in Stories - Branded Content ads in Stories can now include tappable elements, such as @mentions, location and hashtags. We want brands to have access to organic Stories’ creative that is native and authentic to the Stories experience.
Branded Content ads with Product Tags - We’re introducing the ability for businesses to promote branded content posts with product tags.

Q) How are you strengthening your offerings for advertisers? How are you making sure they are able to make the most of your video offerings to connect with their audiences?
As a company, we are deeply committed to supporting the economic recovery of both small and large businesses, and especially understand the support that small businesses need right now to recover from the crisis. As part of our $100 million global grant program to support small businesses across 30 countries, we recently announced a grant of USD 4.3 million for small businesses in India.

More businesses are moving online as a result of the digital acceleration fueled by the pandemic, and we’re keen to make this journey seamless for them through skilling, tools, and customized support. We recently released a local offline to online SMB Guide in Hindi and English that is free and publicly available but we also proactively reached out to 9 million small businesses across the country to ensure that it reaches the businesses that need it the most. We’ve also taken several of our industry-leading digital skilling programs online to ensure seamless learning and support in these times; Our flagship program for skilling small businesses, ‘Boost With Facebook’ is now being delivered in Hindi and English through Facebook Lives.

We have video ad solutions for all the distinct ways in which people create, connect with, and consume video. Keeping in mind the increasing time being spent on mobile phones, and the reducing attention spans, we encourage advertisers to make Thumbstoppers - short-form mobile video ads that are built for the mobile, and tell the story effectively in a few seconds. We also have In-Stream ads for videos that are longer than three minutes on Facebook. These ads enable advertisers to tell a more complex story to people who are actively engaged in watching content with sound-on. We’re also focused on developing formats that are interactive and embrace the way people want to consume in feed. That’s why we have ad solutions including Poll ads, Augmented Reality (AR) ads, Instagram poll stickers for Stories ads, and Brand Playables. Interactive Ads enable instant two-way communication and get people involved, which is a natural fit for how people, especially the youth, engage on mobile phones.

Q) Facebook has now started actively advertising in India, with the IPL as well as the Diwali ad. Why did you start advertising now, and what will your marketing strategy be going ahead?

Consumer marketing is a relatively new strategic area of focus for Facebook and one that will significantly increase our global investment in communicating directly to consumers. Over the past year, our consumer marketing team has been focused on two important things - building trust with people who use our products and services and to build value around each of our apps.

We launched the ‘More Together’ campaign for Facebook in India, earlier this year in March as a demonstration of our core belief that people can do more together than alone. Over the past few months, we have seen numerous instances where these stories have played out on our platform, where people can connect and come together to find and offer information, help, and support in the face of these unprecedented times. Many of these stories are on display at our first Facebook Fuel for India annual dialogue event.

Q) Going ahead, what will your key focus areas be, to further grow your presence in India?
One of our key agendas is to focus on providing social video experiences, through both Facebook Watch and Instagram. Videos now make a third of all posts for Instagram in India, and India is one of the leading markets for Facebook Watch.

Our video strategy for India is truly reflective of the width of consumer tastes in the country. We are investing in forging partnerships to bring culturally relevant, of-the-moment videos across sports, entertainment, news and lifestyle like ICC, FilmFare Awards and IIFA Awards to people. Additionally, we are also launching India-first products on Watch in line with the local consumer tastes and content preferences on the platform in response to the growing consumer affinity for video. India was among the first countries where music videos have been launched along with a music destination on Facebook Watch to enable people to view their favorite music videos and come together through music.

We’re also listening and taking inspiration from what our community wants - and they’re telling us they want the opportunity to create and watch short-form, edited videos. Keeping that in mind, we launched Reels. The unique part of Reels is a dedicated tab, which allows people to be discovered by Instagram’s large and diverse community. We continue to innovate with IGTV too. This year, we partnered with a set of creators, such as Kusha Kapila, Arjun Kanungo and Shirley Setia for launching their own IGTV shows with original content.

Moving forward, we will continue to invest in creating and facilitating active social viewing experiences on our platforms where the consumers can not only watch, but also have an opportunity to comment, like, share groups messages, use reactions and polls, and even hold Watch Parties; making the experience interactive and personalized.