WeChat is so much more than just Instant Messaging
You can hardly turn anywhere these days without seeing the WeChat ads. But if you think that since you have BBM and WhatsApp why would you need yet another Instant Messenger application, then you haven’t looked close enough. Admittingly, I thought that too and so I spent some time with the WeChat apps and discovered that WeChat is so much more than just Instant Messaging.
I was fortunate to attend a press event in Johannesburg where Dennis Hau, Head of Product for Tencent’s International Business Group (IBG) and Brett Loubser, MD of WeChat Africa were able to provide some deeper insights into WeChat and the systems behind it. This was the opportune time to ask those burning questions.
Lets Talk Numbers
At end of 2013 WeChat had 355 million active monthly users. ACTIVE. This is not the number of people who registered and forgot about the app, but the number of people who are constantly using the app. By comparison, worldwide numbers for other apps are roughly as follows: WhatsApp has 450 million active users, Viber 100 million active users, BBM has 80 million.
When I asked specifically about South African number of users, Brett answered with “its company policy not to disclose market by market figures but we are happy with the uptake so far”. So we don’t have a measurement of the uptake of the app in SA however, as a very rough indication, there are 100 000 subscribers to the Big Brother account.
Mr Hau referenced Google Play and indicated that “WeChat has over 100 million downloads since 2011”
WeChat is available on 10 platforms:
- For Mac
- For iPhone
- For Android
- For Windows Phone
- For Nokia S40
- For Symbian Keyboard
- For Symbian Touch
- For BlackBerry OS 5.0
- For BlackBerry OS 6.0 and above
- For BlackBerry 10
why is WeChat is so much more than just Instant Messaging
At its heart, it is a communication platform which is made up of what WeChat refers to as “The 4 Pillars”: Instant Messaging, Location Based Services, Moments and Official Accounts.
Instant Messaging – is the obvious messaging via text which has become our communication preference. Brett makes the point that we prefer texting to phone calls as when we make the call it requires our full attention however when we communicate via text we are free to do other things whilst we wait for a reply.
Location Based Services – this core service allows the user to find information that is relevant relating to the area they are in. Beyond just finding the nearest ATM, the new Radar feature launched today, allows people to find friends around you without revealing your cell number. Of course don’t give out personal info and watch out for weirdo’s !
Moments – this is the features that is the lovechild of Instagram-Facebook-Twitter all rolled into one. You can post pics, comments and Like, share the pics with the public or share with selected audiences only.
Official Accounts – this is where Brands come in. An Official Account is the Brand’s ability to easily set up their company on the WeChat platform and build a community. WeChat has the ability to integrate into the company’s system so that content from the company can be posted across all its channels.
Even More Official
The Official Account has massive potential and represent an opportunity for Brands. WeChat as has set already up several Official Accounts for high profile brands like the Oscar Trial Channel, DSTV and Big Brother. Each one is different. DSTV is all about self diagnosis of decoder issues and customer support, whereas Big Brother is all about engaging with the housemates and voting and Oscar Trial is about hearing live audio and text messaging. Each one is customised for specific needs.
One of the cool features about the official account is that it allows companies to send out a message to many but then have individual private conversations too. This means that WeChat can be used to resolve issues in a private forum unlike other platform such as Twitter.
Official Accounts are new to South Africa and interested Brands can email [email protected] to get on board. The local WeChat team would then work with the brand to come up with the best user engagement and value strategy.
There is also no cost to an Official Account.
Making It Better
Whilst using the app on my BlackBery Z30, I did struggle with discovering new content – especially in Moments. I am presuming that if I can make my post public then I should be able to find other people’s pictures that have been marked as public. I could not find a way to that.
The search could be improved too as you have to type the entire name to find people and Official Accounts. So typing DST says the user does not exist, but typing DSTV does work.
Finally, reveal some stats about the Official Accounts – how many are following it, how many post do they have, how long they have been active. Also have the option to “recommend this account with others”. This gives us an idea of accounts that we should be following and how active they are.
So In Summary:
WeChat has a very interesting space. It straddles across multiple mobile operating systems and is not focusing just on Instant Messaging but Instant Communication with a mixture of social media, chats, built in Mobile HTML5 Browser and custom development to mobilise brands. It has worldwide appeal and a massive loyal user base who wants an interactive experience in real-time. Toby Shapshak, the Moderator for the press event, put this into perspective: “people have reverted back to watching live TV [and not record shows] so that they can use WeChat to interact in real time with others about what they are watching” . Nothing is more real-time than live TV !
I see more features that are worth exploring such as Games and the Stickers which are very popular, but that will be for another post as I continue to use WeChat.
Disclaimer: speaking of TV, I won a TV at the end of the WeChat press event. So Full disclosure and no accusations of being biased in this post about WeChat.