The Mahtos – those who crossed

Many small town creators like the Mahtos have moved to Reels but are unable to find similar growth or reach. Instagram, however, says things are looking up

Many small town creators like the Mahtos have moved to Reels but are unable to find similar growth or reach. Instagram, however, says things are looking up

When TikTok was banned, Sanatan Mahto and his sister Savitri had amassed 2.7 million followers – with just dance videos. Over Bollywood and regional songs, they showcased their village life in Nipania, Jharkhand, with big smiles, flowing movements and a backdrop of mud houses and farmlands.

The same, however, has Sanatan just 724,000 followers on Instagram (and Savitri 150,000). “I do similar content, but I don’t get the same response,” Sanatan, 26, says over the phone. “I also don’t feel like putting so much work into creating content because you never know what’s going to happen. We had 2.7 million followers on TikTok and, overnight, we have lost them all.

One of the Mahtos videos that went viral on Instagram Reels

One of Mahtos’ videos went viral on Instagram Reels | Photo credit: special arrangement

For Sanatan, TikTok was easy. He had fun with the intuitive interface and taught himself how to create and edit videos. “It was easy to do them, to find good songs. But on Instagram, we don’t get the same video quality or engagement.

Read also :Why ’15 Seconds: A Lifetime’, a documentary about an Indian TikToker is relevant today

The biggest problem, he says, is the lack of awareness. “Our audiences are mainly from the villages, and I found that they weren’t able to connect to Instagram. Many don’t know it or can’t find the content they like there. So a lot of people who followed me on TikTok don’t know where we’re creating content now.

The handle of Sanatan has not yet been verified by the platform, and it impacts any kind of monetization business. Previously, through brand partnerships, siblings earned around ₹1.5 lakh per month. Now they rarely get requests.

Changing requirements and algorithm constraints also perplex them. “A few days ago, Instagram deactivated my account for no reason. They said I posted videos that went against their community guidelines. But I don’t know what they mean,” he said, adding, “I’ve heard this happen with many other people I know as well.

Where is Instagram?

Paras Sharma, Director of Media Partnerships, Facebook India (Meta), reacts to perceptions of elitism and small town exclusion:

Plans for the small town creator: Reels [introduced in July 2020, just weeks after TikTok was banned] transformed the way content is created and consumed on Instagram, and spawned a whole new wave of young creators. We have seen many examples of people growing by more than 100% to 1000%. @superstar_dewasi99 [Rupa Ram] from Pali to Rajasthan, for example, has grown by more than 2,500% since the launch of Reels. Last December, we launched the “25 Instagrammers under 25 in India” list to include creators like them.

From left to right: Vaishnavi Nalbalwar, Rupa Ram and Sarabjit Sarkar

From left to right: Vaishnavi Nalbalwar, Rupa Ram and Sarabjit Sarkar | Photo credit: special arrangement

Our “Born on Instagram” creator enablement program has also played a significant role in democratizing learning for small-town creators. Available in English, Hindi, and Tamil, it contains modules that educate creators on how best to manage their presence, create, grow, and earn through branded content. Most registrations for “Born on Instagram” come from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. The program also offers creators the opportunity to engage with brands and unlock monetary rewards.

Tackling the “elitist” tag: It’s a myth that Instagram is only used by people in big cities. We see young people from small towns emerging as creators with national audiences, starting trends that have gone mainstream. Sarabjit Sarkar aka @ranautneel from Teliamura district, Tripura is known as “village fashion influencer” due to his creativity. It has been acclaimed by some of India’s top fashion designers. Vaishnavi Nalbalwar aka @journey_towards_fashion from Raigad is another relevant example. Her passion for fashion, which is clearly visible on her reels, led her to move to Pune and helped her reach a community of passionate people who love her content and also want to buy from her. This led Vaishnavi to start her own fashion brand, all on Instagram.

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