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Chinese social apps tussle in Indonesia’s influencer economy

Written by Khamila Mulia, AJ Cortese Published on 

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ByteDance’s TikTok has dislodged Instagram as the go-to platform for Indonesian influencers, but Kuaishou’s Snack Video is giving TikTok a run for its money.

Reyhan Aldaro Samuda is a TikTok power user who has amassed 2.4 million followers in just one year. Under the handle @__ehan, Samuda created a character called Brenda, a spoiled and melodramatic young woman whose overreactions are the backbone of Samuda’s skits. In lieu of a wig, Samuda fastens a piece of cloth to his head so it looks like long, flowing hair, and Brenda exaggerates women’s reactions when they talk with their crush, get mad at their boyfriends, or gossip with close friends.

Samuda is just one of Indonesia’s growing legion of influencers, also known as key opinion leaders (KOLs), that have risen to internet fame on apps like Facebook’s Instagram and ByteDance’s TikTok.

A young influencer economy

Indonesia’s digital economy continues its robust expansion as COVID-19 remains a concern, with wider e-commerce adoption in the country than ever before. This increasingly popular online shopping habit has augmented the potential of the KOL-powered sales model, which leverages social apps to connect with, engage, and sell to consumers.

Samuda’s, or Brenda’s, skits have racked up around 28.5 million likes so far, with most clips receiving more than 100 comments. This blend of buzziness and high engagement has attracted the attention of brands including Viu Indonesia, D-bank, and others that commission Samuda to market products or brands to his audience on TikTok. “I do make videos for brand endorsements, but in Brenda’s style so they’re still funny. I usually get up to five endorsements per month,” Samuda said.

@__ehanPOV: Brenda sok imut bgt ala-ala gamau ungkit masalah sama pacar🙂 #BrendaLyfe♬ original sound – BRENDA / EHAN

Indonesia’s burgeoning influencer economy is on the rise. Even the government has tapped into the sector, spending at least IDR 90.4 billion (USD 6 million) on digital activities involving influencers since 2017.

Indonesia is the fastest-growing digital ad market in the world, followed by India, according to the 2019 Global Digital Ad Trends report From PubMatic. Digital advertising spending in the country is estimated to have reached USD 2.6 billion in 2019, an increase of 26% from the previous year.

Increasingly, influencer marketing is taking up larger portions of digital advertising budgets.

“Content creator has an important role in Indonesia’s digital economy, given the large turnover of money in this new industry,” Budi Putra, COO of Indonesian content and creator management startup R66 Media, told KrASIA. “Advertising budgets from brands and agencies that were usually allocated for electronic and digital media, now have been diverted into influencer marketing.”

This potential for growth in Indonesia attracted the attention of Chinese short-video titans ByteDance and Kuaishou. The two companies are used to competing in a mature Chinese market, which has an influencer economy projected to generate RMB 300 million in 2020. They are also well-versed in synergizing e-commerce operations with social engagement. KOLs like Samuda, whose Brenda persona has cultivated a massive following, depend on apps and tools that let them create content smoothly.

“I got the inspiration for Brenda from observing my close female friends. I have shown Brenda’s character through my Instagram Stories before, but it didn’t stick. So, I moved to TikTok, which apparently is much easier to build an audience,” Samuda said to KrASIA.

On top of TikTok’s easy-to-use features, the 26-year-old says TikTok’s rich library of the latest songs and background music makes the platform attractive to influencers.

“With a large variety of music, we can make different fun videos. TikTok also has a duet feature that doesn’t exist on other platforms. This feature allows us to make videos side by side with other people’s videos, so it’d look like we were making videos together. Many users are making duet videos with Brenda, which helped the character go viral,” he added.

Virality is the key. Rade Tampubolon, co-founder and CEO of SociaBuzz, a Jakarta-based talent marketplace for influencers, said to KrASIA, “TikTok understands the local market better. It is also an ideal platform for content creators because it is more like a content distribution platform, rather than a social media app, so creators can find audiences outside their circle of friends easily.”

While TikTok has been popular in Indonesia since its debut in the country in 2017rival Kuaishou recently launched competitor Snack Video. The Tencent-backed firm is reportedly setting up an office in Jakarta and recruiting a local team, covering content management as well as creator or talent partnership. 

Kuaishou’s overseas play is off to a good start, as it was at the top of the download charts for Android apps in the past few months, according to App Annie. It was ranked fourth on November 25, ahead of WhatsApp and Instagram, reflecting the app’s growing popularity.

Converting engagement to sales

While American platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram still dominate the social media space, TikTok has garnered a significant following among Indonesia’s influencers, in particular because of the app’s roots in short-video e-commerce.

Unlike on YouTube, content creators don’t make money through views on TikTok. Instead, they rely on brand endorsement and sponsorships. However, TikTok has launched donation stickers in several markets, allowing content creators to raise funds and earn money within their videos and livestreaming sessions.

“Even though it can’t be monetized automatically, I think it’s still easier to make money from TikTok because getting followers here is much easier than on Instagram and YouTube,” Samuda said.

As a result, TikTok has now become an indispensable platform for Indonesian influencers, with most leveraging both platforms to maximize engagement. In October, TikTok partnered with Shopify to provide in-app purchasing functionality, as well as exposure for more than one million retailers.

It is this advantage in livestreaming e-commerce that gives the Chinese apps an edge over their American peers in Indonesia when it comes to turning user engagement into transactions.

Kuaishou’s Snack Video is off to a hot start in Indonesia in terms of downloads, but will require more time before it incubates a mature influencer ecosystem.

“I haven’t downloaded Snack Video yet, but I’m open to any new platforms as long as they have many users, hype, and can be monetized,” said Samuda.

Nevertheless, Snack Video certainly has potential for monetization in its heritage. Parent company Kuaishou’s humble roots in China among users in lower-tier cities and rural areas imbued the platform with an authenticity that helped it achieve a more robust e-commerce conversion rate than TikTok’s Chinese twin app Douyin.

This down-to-earth approach is exactly what has helped TikTok displace the more glamorous and curated Instagram in Indonesia, with a raft of influencers on ByteDance’s platform based in non-metro cities, sharing content that is honest, relatable, and entertaining.

Take Samuda as an example. According to the TikTok calculator from social media analytic site Exolyt, with his engagement rate, Samuda can earn USD 221–554 per video, which translates into promising income in Indonesia.

Even though the short-video market in Indonesia may seem saturated, one more player is entering the ring. ByteDance has a new social media platform called Helo in Indonesia. Helo was originally intended for Indian users, racking up 50 million downloads in the country. In India, it has a talent show called Helo Superstar to encourage people to create content on the platform. It is unclear whether Helo will apply a similar strategy in Indonesia, or how it might work in tandem with TikTok. In any case, short-video apps with Chinese roots are here to stay in Indonesia.

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