#Deeptake – The Wattpad India Story
Wattpad, the world’s largest social storytelling platform, just completed a year in India. How does a global giant reimagine itself in a market with story and song in its ethos?
Three and a half million users, 90% of them under the age of 30, 65% women and with a fair split between metros and other town classifications. Those are rather impressive numbers for a long-form platform in the age of constant distraction! How do these millions of youngsters, who spend a whopping 30 minutes on Wattpad every day on an average, continue to remain engaged?
Beyond its numbers, Wattpad in India has carved its niche as somewhat of a progressive, inclusive platform. Stories on LGBTQ themes, mental health, anti-bullying – conversations not being had elsewhere are popular on the platform. How then did it tap into this latent sentiment and give a platform to these unheard voices simply by creating a safe space? In simpler words, why are Indian youth thronging to Wattpad?
The answer is rather simple - and has a history! Armed with deep insights into the market Wattpad had just the right opening to make the right moves; to tap into the pulse of a nation, and gently nudge to let the platform do what it does best - encourage expression.
Have you wondered why all Bollywood films are full of songs? Often puzzling and sometimes downright amusing to watch serious storylines being broken up by a song and dance routine, the answer is simply that storytelling in India is full of song and lore. Much more in line with the idea of a musical – much more wholesome.
The term ‘Indian’ is very often reductionist - one that clubs together vastly different geographies, languages, and cultures together. Few things unite the different regional contexts within India but storytelling is one of the few. In prose and in verse, Indians have for centuries been consuming story with song. Marketing and promotion is tied to song and star power – and Bollywood is the prime entertainer for all audiences. Regional language film industries, sizeable giants in their own right, too follow this pattern. Soundtracks are released before the film as promotional material. Even before the film is out on screens, chatter on the street is discussing whether they’ll watch it or not depending on how good the songs are. And it all ties back to the tradition of storytelling that has been alive and fed in all parts for centuries - borrowing from contact with others from the Silk Route, through spice trade and by the Indian Ocean.
Songwriters have, through history, been famous poets as well - their acclaim offscreen often holding much more power and sentiment than their works on screen and in song. The tradition of spoken poetry in India merely found an outlet in film and song. As a means of expression it continued to thrive in all its literary glory off screen; the poets as stalwarts in their own right.
This bit of a background captures a vast history of storytelling and song in a few sentences. A background you needn’t necessarily know but will help understand the Wattpad India growth story better.
Tailored Wattpad to the tune of India
Cashing in on the celebrity power of musicians and song-writers, Wattpad ran a masterclass on Lyrics Writing and then a contest inviting the Wattpad community to write cover lyrics for a popular Sony Music Artist. Lyricists are often also distinguished poets or literati – so there is an element of reverence to writing lyrics. Combined with the tradition of punctuating a story with song, both the masterclass and the contest resonated with many for whom the act of crafting song lyrics in itself is an expression of aspiration.
Unsurprisingly, the platform registered 7.5M+ impressions, 50K reads and 300+original lyrics submissions!
Another striking thing common across India, or rather the subcontinent, is the teacher-taught tradition in a way fosters community. Traditional education centered around the teacher is a trend we see across the country. Together with a skill-based mindset, in a context of high youth employment, Indian market loves traditional pedagogy. Wattpad’s spin on this was what was developed and piloted as their online masterclass and it went onto be replicated globally.
Tapping into the two most popular genres – self-help, and skilling – in this aspirational market, they delivered two classes with celebrities with face value and got a combined reach of 75k reads. Both classes were delivered completely digitally and saw both uptake and engagement.
We often hear of Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe going across campuses in the US, from sorority house to frats, and getting users onto the app. In India, Wattpad tweaked this just a bit – and how!
Tying up with institutions with the underlying reverence associated with institutions to promote writing, and tapping into the India college networks had an effect. Times Bridge & Wattpad together and very deftly, cashed in on some key sentiments and the right networks to create this powerhouse of progressive storytelling and reading. Going all in and beyond traditional partnership – influencers, brands, publishing houses – they uncovered latent sentiments through understanding culture – online and offline. The engagement with and immersion into the quotidian lives of the youth of India has ensured they keep their growth growing.
In India, Wattpad has created a category of its own reimagining its offerings. This is how it makes for a wonderful tale into how deep insight into the cultural landscape can help companies rewrite the rules of a game - and their own play.