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In China there's no Facebook, no Twitter, and no Google. Instead, there are rip-offs of all of them, and also some unique and amazing things, like the super app WeChat.
It was invented in 2013 by a small group of Chinese entrepreneurs. At this moment, two-thirds of China's population has a WeChat account and so do one-fifth of Chinese companies.
"For advertisers, this is a miracle. It's the combined data of Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Paypal, all in one place." (Johan M. Kessel and Paul Mozur)
CC by-nc-sa Robert Scales
WeChat's primary goal was to provide new ways for users to stay in touch, in a huge country where urban migration is separating friends and families. It's not just the old relationships that get damaged; life in big cities can be lonely. WeChat appeared at the perfect moment to solve a nationwide need.
It's been a massive success, growing 3.6 times faster than Facebook, and reaching their first 100 million users in 15 months.
WeChat even develops its own hardware products with the same goal of connecting families and friends. The WeChat "Moments" Digital Photo Frame serves to easily share photos and videos with specific people in our network, as well as to have video conferences.
But it's more than an app that connects users. It combines social network, commerce and entertainment. And its new goal is even more ambitious: they are radically transforming the way people use their mobile phones and interact with the world around them.
How the WeChat interface works
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WeChat can be a little confusing and overwhelming for foreigners because there is no equivalent app that can be used in order to explain it (at least not yet).
Users register using their phone number, like on WhatsApp. In fact, the main feature of the app is a similar chat interface, where users can talk to people they already have in their contact list.
From there, they can access a social platform in the app called "Moments" which is similar to Facebook, but it only shows updates (text, images and short videos) from the user's contacts.
In order to meet new people, one needs to access another section called "People Nearby" and add them. That, or enter "Shake Shake", and shake their phone to connect to someone who's shaking theirs at the same time. A fun way to find new friends.
That section includes regular users, businesses and individuals who offer all kinds of services, and bots.
Popular features that WeChat liked before they were cool
The first one is voice memos. Typing in Chinese can be tedious, so WeChat decided to offer users the possibility to send brief voice messages to each other via chat.
Also, stickers! They are being used massively by people on WeChat, and they serve to convey messages in a way that is quick and anyone can understand.
How WeChat is transforming life and business in China
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All sorts of industries are quickly adapting to the new possibilities of this environment. According to WeChat itself, the company allows other businesses to improve their efficiency, their market communication, customer service, and find new business opportunities.
- It serves to attract and target new customers.
- It allows businesses to stay connected and interact with existing customers.
- Customers can register, order and pay on the platform.
- Customer service on WeChat is smarter, personalized and intimate.
And of course, as WeChat keeps transforming and reinventing the commercial world, new business ideas and opportunities arise as a consequence for businesses ready to jump in.
Companies on WeChat
One-fifth of all Chinese companies have a WeChat account. That is 5.8 million accounts, and that number keeps growing every day.
Here are two of the top examples: Uniqlo and Damac.
Uniqlo is a Japanese apparel designer and Asia's biggest apparel company. WeChat is a big part of its multichannel online strategy, which connects the brand with customers who have access to brick-and-mortar stores as well as those who can only shop online.
Their WeChat campaign "Style Your Life" helped the brand double their followers, from 400,000 to 1 million, in only six months. The sales of featured fashion items of Uniqlo also increased, by 30%!
What was this campaign like? People could try on outfits in front of monitors that made them look as if they were in the middle of a London or Tokyo street, and share those pics on WeChat for people to comment. It was also possible to join the campaign using regular selfies, for people who didn't have access to the shops' monitors.
DAMAC is a Dubai luxury real estate investment company, and another featured example of companies on WeChat.
I bet it's not the kind of company you expected to find there.
As to why they have decided to be on WeChat -their audience is a wealthy minority- it seems to be featuring beautiful views and articles about the luxurious lifestyle in Dubai, and target Chinese investors.
They created a campaign in the right channel for an audience who is likely to be interested, but may not have considered this as an investment option yet.
There are many other companies launching successful campaigns on WeChat. Montblanc, Tiffany & Co, Burberry, Mulberry, Sephora, Coslys, Starbucks (of course)...
So, if you haven't considered it yet, maybe it's time to think about WeChat as another sales platform. Especially if your target audience is young and into new platforms and technologies.
Even non-Chinese users rate it as better in terms of usability than WhatsApp and other similar apps (just read the reviews online).
But if you know you're not going to open a WeChat business profile anytime soon, keep in mind that the way WeChat makes payments and B2C connections easy and convenient is currently inspiring Western social media too.
"SuperApps" are coming.