Although it’s not yet a household name in this part of the world like Facebook or Instagram, WeChat is the most popular social media app in China and is therefore a very big deal indeed.
In fact, at last count (March 2018) WeChat had more than 1 billion active users worldwide, growing 12% from 889 million users at the end of 2016. What’s more, in China, WeChat penetration is estimated at roughly 83%, which means anyone who’s anyone is using the app.
What are they using it for? Well, just about everything…
What does WeChat actually do?
WeChat is a multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app.
Developed by Tencent (now one of the world’s largest gaming, social media, and technology companies) in 2011, the app quickly came to be known as China’s “super app” because of its incredibly wide range of functions.
WeChat’s core function is chat – ie. sending free instant messages (including text, pics, video or speech) to other WeChat users. It’s not dissimilar to Messenger or Whatsapp in this regard. You can also make calls.
Like Facebook, WeChat also lets users post ‘moments’ to their timeline for all their friends and followers to see. Other users can ‘like’ or comment on these moments, depending on your settings.
So far WeChat is just like other social media apps, right? Well, this is where it gets interesting. Users can connect bank or credit cards to WeChat and use it to make in-store payments, pay their utility bills, order things online, send money to friends, or basically do whatever they like.
Pretty cool, right? WeChat Pay is so popular in China that if your business isn’t on WeChat, then you’re not in business.
Why should I care about WeChat?
If you do business in China, then you have to care about WeChat. Without it, you might as well just give up now, file for bankruptcy, and just move on with your life.
In the West, WeChat is far from essential, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on. A very close eye indeed.
This year, Tencent expanded the range of WeChat official account registrations to include international organisations for the first time. Now businesses and people from more than 200 countries and regions can apply for an official China WeChat account.
That could be a massive breakthrough if your company does business in China, or with Chinese tourists. The potential for targeting these customers with your marketing campaigns is immense. Or you could open an entirely new revenue stream by allowing Chinese customers to pay via WeChat.
At the time of writing, only Chinese or Malaysian nationals are able to sync up their bank accounts with WeChat Pay.
The cost and risks associated with WeChat
Though the cost of entry seems low (it currently costs around $99 US to register a WeChat official account as an overseas business entity) are you capable of producing content in Mandarin? If not, you’re going to have to get someone to do that for you.
Meanwhile, there are some third-party suppliers that will help your business set up WeChat pay (doing it alone can be a long and complex process), but this will also cost you.
Then there are concerns about WeChat censorship and surveillance, which have been highly publicised. The ruling Chinese Communist Party has close ties to WeChat, which has allowed it to prosper where the likes of Facebook have not. As a result, the app has been routinely accused of spying on its users on behalf of the government or police.
Some countries (including Australia, India, and the United States of America) even perceive WeChat as being a threat to national security. And in 2016 WeChat owner Tencent was awarded a score of zero out of 100 in an Amnesty International report ranking technology companies on the way they implement encryption to protect the human rights of its users.
Does that sound like the sort of app you want your business to be involved with? Yes? No? Maybe? The verdict is still out on WeChat, so watch this space very carefully and contact us if you want to know more …