Koo wants to be Nigeria’s Twitter but its perceived strength could become its biggest challenge

Ejike Kanife

India-based microblogging platform, Koo, broke into the Nigerian market in June and became an instant topic upon its arrival. This was because the Nigerian government had just banished Twitter, the microblogging platform that had become a darling for many Nigerians, especially the country’s youthful population.

Koo was launched in March 2020 by its founder and serial entrepreneur, Aprameya Radhakrishna. Its focus at the time was to be a purely Indian social interactivity platform. For many months, it only allowed communications in local Indian languages like Hindu.

However, the social engagement platform onboarded English after it realised its biggest competition, Twitter, was getting into trouble in the US.

We started observing that Twitter was getting into trouble in the U.S. And we said, okay, maybe we should just have English as well, right? If ever, you know, Twitter gets into trouble or users want a separate option, we should have English, and hence we introduced English.

Aprameya Radhakrishna

The app seems to employ a strategy of scavenging after countries whose governments have cancelled its major rivals, especially Twitter, to feed off the section of the populace who either share the government’s stance or simply require an alternative platform to reach out to more people especially for advert and marketing purposes.

Koo became the biggest microblogging platform in India after the country ejected Twitter following a farmers’ riot in November 2020. India accused Twitter of fueling the violence as many people took to the platform to air their grievances. The country finally dropped the hammer on Twitter after it labelled a tweet from the national spokesperson of India’s ruling party as “manipulated media.”

Koo’s ‘takeover’ of the Nigerian space isn’t very different. Twitter first ran into major trouble during the #EndSARS protests when it served as a platform for real-time information as well as financial donations which kept the protest alive for long. But the hammer would fall when it deleted a tweet by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari which threatened a section of the country.

The government promptly sent Twitter packing and in less than a week, debuted on the Koo app alongside its supporters. Therein lies the problem; rather than be seen as a social platform bringing people together, Koo is perceived, especially by the young Nigerians not on the government’s side, as a perfectly divisive platform.

Estimated active users in Nigeria

As of May 2021, Koo has about 6 million total users. While Statista estimates that the app enjoys roughly 1 million downloads per month, it is also fair to state that at that time, it hadn’t been released in Nigeria. With its Nigeria launch and assuming both countries got 1 million downloads each in June, a rough estimate should peg the current number of users between 8 and 9 million.

It is also unclear how many Nigerian users are on the Indian microblogging platform but if India already has 6 million as of May 2021, another 1 million for June means India should have at least 7 million users while Nigeria should have at least 1 million. Activity on the space suggests far less though.

For instance, President Buhari’s account which has 4 million followers on Twitter, has less than 40,000 on Koo. And 40,000 to 50,000 appears to be the highest limit for now, with very few popular figures like Bashir Ahmed joining the president in that region. The average followership per popular person is 12,000 followers.

In contrast, Twitter currently has about 7.8 million active users in Nigeria despite the suspension. In May 2021 before the suspension, there were about 23 million active users in the country according to Stat Counter.

Registeration and how it works

Signing up to use the Koo app is pretty simple. It requires a phone number or email and a preferred password. A One-time pin (OTP) will be sent to the phone or email for verification and confirmation of your account. Once that is done, you get access to feeds and other functions.

Koo app is almost a cross between Twitter and Facebook in that it has features similar to both despite its ordinariness. There are five menus at the top of the landing page; The Feed which shows you stories on your timeline; People, which shows you people you may find interesting; Trending shows you trending posts; New shows you what’s new; Polls shows you polls.

Just like Facebook, the section to make a post is the What’s on your mind section. A post is called a Koo, the act of making one is called koo-ing, and resharing one is called a re-koo. The app is also similar to Twitter in that there’s a word limit. But unlike Twitter’s 280, Koo has a limit of 400 words. So far, there are no provisions for threads.

The pictures and videos don’t come out as crisp as Twitter’s and as earlier mentioned, the platform still looks scant. Koo gives a yellow tick to indicate a verified account

From my experience, Koo Nigeria isn’t a generally fun place to be. This is because the conversations are mostly about divisive politics as the space seems to be dominated by supporters of President Buhari’s administration who are bent on using the platform basically for its PR.

The trend lists are incredibly short and usually dominated by just a few people expressing the same ideas. Trending topics and hashtags are generally about the same things, indicating a lack of creativity which diversity would have ensured.

I’m not sure if it’s a policy, but the space is acutely lacking business adverts by small businesses latching on to trending topics to promote their goods and services. According to Nigeria’s Ministry of Trade, there are more than 37 million MSME’s in the country. Many of them use social media as advert platforms.

Koo’s lack of numbers and seeming aloofness towards business promotion would be a big discouragement to young Nigerian business owners who require a social platform to generate sales.

In conclusion

It seems Koo app’s model is pillared on its rivalry with Twitter and its success, so far, seems tied to Twitter’s failure in the face of stringent government control. In terms of its offering, there isn’t anything significantly unique except maybe a feature which allows users share a koo directly to WhatsApp.

Its founders have indicated an interest to make local Nigerian languages available on the platform though. CEO, AprameyaRadhakrishna said as much in a koo. But it’s left to be seen how they manage the kind of divisiveness the app is being perceived to promote in the countries in which it is fully operational.

According to a report in Rest of the World, “Radhakrishna insists that he’s apolitical. But Koo’s public posturing and embrace of the sudden rush of users after endorsement from ministers in the Modi administration has positioned it — consciously or subconsciously — as a home for Hindu nationalists.”

The same appears to be the case in Nigeria. In the long run, the $100 million platform’s penchant for cashing out on political upheaval might prove its biggest challenge especially as it plans to go global.

Featured image credit: QZ Africa

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