The most popular social network in China is little known in Europe or the US. Likewise, Europe’s most popular networks, Facebook and Twitter, play no significant role in China. Though WeChat is much more than just a social network. It’s a natural part of everyday communication - not only within a private context but also in interaction with businesses.
It is a well-established platform for businesses to communicate to customers and far more advanced than Apple, Google or Facebook at this current point in time with their efforts to integrate businesses.
In the beginning of 2016 WeChat recorded 762 million monthly active users. In August 2017 there were already 963 million that spent approximately 40 minutes a day on WeChat. China is truly mobile first. They almost skipped the desktop era and went straight to smartphones. Tencent - the company behind WeChat - is one of the drivers and realized the potential of mobile early on.
Tencent is in the same League as Apple, Google and Facebook. It is simply little known in Europe because their efforts of expanding to Europe or the US have been unsuccessful so far. Still Tencent generated 20.42 billion € turnover which accounts to almost 50% plus in comparison to the previous year.
Especially impressive is their control over the Chinese app market with WeChat. While in Europe there is WhatsApp to communicate, PayPal to transfer money and Facebook to socialize, WeChat is an All-in-One solution and combines all those functionalities.
Regardless of generation, the Chinese organize their everyday life with this application. WeChat Pay allows them to pay cashless wherever they want: order a taxi, book a restaurant or buy a pair of shoes all within the messenger. Users do not need another app.
WeChat increases their control further by having introduced mini apps in September 2016. Apps with a size of less than 1024 kilobyte can be implemented. They run within the messenger so that users do not have to leave their learned and most used app. Mini apps have the ability to decrease the significance of operating systems. iOS or Android will not matter as long as you have WeChat installed.
Users have the obvious benefit of a one-app-for-everything solution. Everything they have to do on their smartphone can be done through WeChat. Messaging, group chats, video calls, voice mails, sending stickers and emoticons - pretty much any basic functionality. Additionally, they can book services, buy goods and interact with businesses.
It is a payment system, online shopping and social network in one. Moreover with WeChat Pay cashless payment is available in an increasing amount of countries all over the world. In July 2017 payment provider Wirecard has introduced WeChat Pay to Germany. A huge benefit for Chinese tourists.
For Chinese businesses WeChat is a blessing. Companies can present themselves to potential customers via official accounts. For their accounts - based on their different business objectives - they need a Chinese business license and register with Tencent.
There are two options:
Businesses can create different campaigns within WeChat to advertise events, send out newsletter, highlight company updates, promote products or attract employees. Accordingly, businesses create their own WeChat website, sometimes even before creating a real website. In a nutshell: Everything happens on this messenger.
For campaigns, there is no need for a big budget as they start at a low price and can be individually adapted. For European businesses WeChat presents an opportunity to win Chinese customers and meet them in their preferred and most used channel of communication.
Businesses such as Siemens, Bosch or BASF (only to name a few) that operate and have locations in China have created their own WeChat accounts. Companies without a Chinese business license have limited options. In America, they can create an account but only to accept WeChat Pay from Chinese tourists.
Without any significant impact in the European market, one may say that WeChat has no relevance for the European economy. But the way it operates in China and the opportunities it offers users and businesses alike should not go unnoticed. Specifically, it is their way of creating an app that dismantles Apple and Google of their access barriers and thus market power.
Additionally WeChat Pay could potentially be of meaning to the way payment happens. The way that Asia was a pioneer with mobile first, their approach to cashless payment via messenger may also give an idea of where things are heading.