Active users: 806 million monthly as of August 2016 (Liu & Chen, 2016)
Type: Mobile messaging and social media app
Launched in 2011, WeChat has evolved from a messaging app to include other services such as online car-hailing, utility payments, food delivery and a digital wallet (Liu & Chen, 2016). You can basically organize your whole life without leaving the app.
WeChat is WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Uber, Tinder, Amazon and Skype all in one. Additionally, it provides service we don’t even have apps for (New York Times, 2016). Here’s an overview on the most remarkable features:
- Digital Wallet:
User connect their bank account to their WeChat account. Many shops in China accept WeChat payment. You can pay for your coffee, your cab rides or your meal directly in the app. You can also directly send money through the chat to a friend in a red envelop.
To connect with a friend on WeChat, you simply scan their QR-Code (as known from Snapchat). It is the most common way to add new acquaintances.
There’s a timeline / user feed called “Moments”: Similar to Facebook you can see what your friends are up to and like or comment on their posts.
- Serious image:
While it is not common to talk to your investment banker, hair dresser or even your professor on WhatsApp, in China this is perfectly normal. WeChat is the main touch point between businesses and their customers. For example, if the washing machine in my apartment is not working, I can text my agency’s service account and let them know about my problem. They will then lead me to a HTML5 site where I can describe my problem and demand the right service to come fix it. I can pay this service directly through WeChat.
WeChat can also serve as a dating platform. With the shake function you can see who’s nearby and start talking to them, if they’re open to it. There’s another fun function called “Drift Bottle”: Using the shipwrecked imagery, you can send a message in a bottle and throw it into a virtual sea. Similarly, you can fish out random bottles and read messages, to which you can choose to respond or simply throw back into the sea.
Compare your fitness data such as step counter to your friends.
You can basically organize your whole live on WeChat. You can make reservations at a restaurant, order food, pay your electricity bill and more. It is to point out that all those services are available without leaving the app.
How businesses use WeChat
WeChat is a marketing platform where brands can geo-target their community and specifically categorize people according to their gender and location. It is used by many western companies in mainly the following ways:
Set up a verified Account
Companies and organizations can create “public accounts”, which are similar to Facebook company pages. WeChat users can subscribe to these to access information, coupons, games and other incentive available to members only. By promoting their QR-Code companies grow their fan base and send instant messages.
Create a mini website in WeChat
Apart from conversation based on chats, WeChat enables brands to set up a full HTML5 website to complete their brand experience. This website can be personally branded and divided into two-level menus which can work as a series of marketing purposes. These two-level interacting menus are an important tool to better manage interaction with your fans. This can be set up on the WeChat account panel or with the help of third-party services (Johnson, 2014).
Membership and loyalty programs
Western brands like Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Godiva or many other small and local shops and cafes use WeChat’s membership functions and digital loyalty programs. It’s an easy way to convert your followers into members. It allows brands to adapt their marketing content and highlight sales promotions to a certain section of consumers.
Promotion of the brand with WeChat QR-Code
In Europe, I’ve never really been a fan of scanning QR-codes of random companies. Seriously, who does that? In China, it’s a whole other story. Scanning QR-codes has gotten part of my everyday life. The companies give their consumers many reasons to scan their QR code: Promotion for a purchase, discounts, lucky draws, souvenirs or a free WiFi pass code are reason enough.
WeChat may have started out as a cheap copy of WhatsApp, but has now functionalities every western app dreams of. Just now they’re testing a new feature that will allow users to access a variety of mobile services without downloading separate apps. Experts say the move may affect the business of major smartphone app distributors such as the online Apple Store (Liu & Chen, 2016). But we will get to this later. Stay tuned!
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