Rivals Helo, ShareChat offer money for referrals as the social media battle heats up

Helo and ShareChat, vernacular social media rivals fighting it out for first-time Internet users in the regional language space, are offering money to users if they bring friends and family on board.
This comes at a time of increased competition in India’s social media and content landscape as Indian, Chinese and American applications battle to win the so-called next one billion users in the world’s last large untapped Internet market.
Helo will transfer Rs 10 and ShareChat will offer Rs 15 through payments application Paytm, for every new user they get via referrals. ShareChat users will also get a scratch card with a chance to win more money, while Helo is promising to give additional cash if the referred user engages more deeply on its platform. Both the applications are available in 14-15 languages.
After short-video application TikTok’s runaway success in India, ByteDance wants Helo to be the go-to app for small towns and villages. Helo competes with domestic startup ShareChat, which accused the Chinese app of copying its design and infringing on copyright last year. The court case was disposed off after Helo made changes to its design.
“While the majority of our user growth has been organic and by word-of-mouth, we believe that these are still early days for Helo in India. Currently, we are experimenting with various ways to drive user growth,” a spokesperson for Helo told ET in an email. “’Invite and earn’ is a part of the various experimental programmes we are running to gauge user reception and engagement.”
ShareChat declined to comment on its referral program.
Helo has about 50 million monthly active users in India, while ShareChat has about 45 million as of March end. Helo was launched just one year ago, compared to ShareChat, which was founded in 2015.
“We recognise that driving user growth in a highly competitive market like India, where user behaviour changes from state to state and a constant demand for a platform like Helo to bridge the information gap for regional language users does not entail a one-size-fits-all approach,” the Helo spokesperson added.
Around 90% of new Internet users in India are not proficient in English, according to Google’s former executive Rajan Anandan.
“Social media is facing competition from new market entrants, from traditional television and video-on-demand services like Hotstar or Netflix, and more competition still from gaming. With only 24 hours in every day, all entertainment properties will have to work harder to compete,” said Kieley Taylor, managing partner, global head of social at GroupM.
Paying for referrals leads to more downloads, but it may not be the most effective way to find continued engagement — the most important metric for possible advertisers on social media platforms. In the past, Uber and Ola have used references to acquire more customers on their platform in India.
Helo is targeting doubling its monthly active user base to 100 million by the end of December.
“We’ve seen that the entertainment value, usefulness, and access to a user’s network of connections are necessary to sustain and grow monetizable time spent. Paying for referrals is a short term strategy and is susceptible to fraud,” Taylor added.

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