The global race for messaging supremacy has long seemed like an uneven contest.
, with over 1.6 billion monthly active users (MAU), looks almost uncatchable for players like
But the encrypted service Telegram, which has over 200 million users globally and which is patronised by journalists, public officials and protest movements, is now gaining a huge following in India. It has seen nearly 65% increase in user count this year; the MAU figure (Android alone) stood at around 2.9 crore in September.
Small and medium-sized enterprises and startups, which use the app for marketing and customer engagement, are driving this bump in interest. Edtech firms use it to reach test-prep users, companies in other sectors rely on it for influencer marketing, and small businesses love its unique application programming interface (API) and bot feature to engage with customers and analyse data.
According to Prabhu Ram, head, Industry Intelligence Group at CyberMedia Research, businesses prefer Telegram because it marries capabilities of WhatsApp and Snapchat – it’s secure, private and accessible. Access across multiple devices and no restrictions on the number of group members and file sizes are also a big selling point.
Fantasy sports platform HalaPlay uses the service as an influencer board. The freedom of having unlimited members on the app’s broadcast feature ‘Channels’ helps the company maximise its reach. HalaPlay co-founder and CEO Swapnil Saurav said in the past two years, a single influencer had brought in, through Telegram, nearly 40,000 users for the fantasy sports platform.
Edtech sector is the largest adopter of Telegram in India. This is because a large section of the companies’ target audience – tech professionals and candidates preparing for competitive exams – are on the app.
Awanish, assistant vicepresident (content marketing) at Edureka, said the nature of engagement among tech professionals in the age group 25-34 on Telegram was more focused and therefore it constituted targeted traffic for them. “As a business strategy, Telegram helps me in branding my startup and getting the word out about my offerings,” he said.
Edureka’s official Telegram channel, which has over 6,520 followers, offers latest updates on trending technologies and information on upcoming batches. The company hosts seven Telegram groups for DevOps, Python, Java and data science.
Online tutoring platform Vedantu uses Telegram to send notifications on sessions and classes, solve doubts and address users’ grievances. Anand Prakash, the firm’s co-founder and academic head, said Telegram’s API and bot capabilities enabled businesses to interact with users, and data analytics was a standout feature, something WhatsApp for Business lacked. “Up to 200 users are generally online per hour, with high levels of interaction and engagement,” Prakash said.
Exam prep firm Oliveboard found unique users in tier-2 and 3 towns who generally cannot afford the sophisticated and expensive paid solutions of an edtech platform. “Most UPSC toppers go off Facebook, WhatsApp and other platforms, but are active on Telegram the whole time. This is a key indicator of the app’s dominance in the exam prep segment,” said Oliveboard co-founder Abhishek Patil. Oliveboard’s Telegram channel has over 16,000 members.
Pick Your Trail, a Chennai-based travel tech startup, began using Telegram about three years ago as a concierge platform to talk to customers and send them information, including vouchers. Later, it developed its own app for the purpose. “The flexible and open-source APIs of