WeChat - can it enter the global market?

    At the end of February, Tencent, the company that developed the extremely popular QQ and WeChat instant messengers in China (the last one will be discussed), took a new step towards entering the international market. A group is being formed on the basis of one of the company's divisions, which will explore the prospects for promoting WeChat in the US market.

    Initially, the article was conceived exclusively as a translation, but after viewing the results of the search on WeChat request (there were only 3 articles, and in all three cases the mention was only indirect) and during the writing process, it was decided to turn the translation into a more or less independent article

    in China in two with a small year, WeChat began to use almost 300 million people. But will the Chinese messenger be able to achieve similar success in the Western market?

    Review, translation, analysis and a small survey - under the cut.

    Introduction, or What is WeChat

    The Wechat mobile messenger from its first appearance in January 2011 quickly gained popularity among Chinese users. If you draw parallels, then the closest "relative" of WeChat can be considered the notorious WhatsApp. However, in addition to text messaging, the Chinese have added many other “twists” to their program:
    • voice messaging, a feature quite popular among Chinese users, according to personal observations, traffic is used quite sparingly. The new versions have video (and audio) calls.
    • “Moments” or “Circle of friends”, local Instagram - photos, statuses, “likes”, comments. You can “follow” only those who are in your contact list. "Likes" and comments from the rest, even in the photos of your friends, are not displayed (yet, not quite Instagram)
    • Searching for people nearby, searching for those who shake the phone at the same time with you, “message in a bottle” - you can launch your text or voice message “swimming” along the “seas” of WeChat (or read the “messages” of others who each times are randomly selected).
    • Integration with QQ, some other services of the same Tencent (another “Twitter service” of Tencent Weibo, QQ Mail), as well as with Facebook (the latter, considering Facebook’s blocking in China, looks pretty funny). Also, using WeChat, you can receive offline messages from QQ (although, from personal experience, this function does not work perfectly yet).
    • Many more minor advanced features.

    A few screenshots (taken from the official website of the program)

    (the rightmost screenshot is the very “moments”)

    Initially, the program was promoted under the purely Chinese name Weixin (“microposts”, the Chinese call it that now), in October 2011 a translation into English (as well as Indonesian, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Vietnamese and Russian), and since April 2012, “Weixin” has been replaced by a more understandable “WeChat” for a foreigner. All this is available on the Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Symbian platforms. Registration is possible in three ways: binding to a phone number, through a QQ account or using Facebook Connect.

    China -> Southeast Asia -> USA

    As already mentioned, in China, WeChat became popular quite quickly. According to some reports, by the beginning of this year, 300 million users were already using the program. Of these, about 10 million are foreign [1] . However, despite everything, WeChat has not yet received widespread distribution in the West. According to Ma Huateng (founder of Tencent, also known as “Pony” Ma [2] ), at the moment there are examples of Chinese companies that have successfully made a name for themselves abroad, but there are no Internet projects in their ranks, in this competition Chinese Internet so far far behind.

    (it is worth saying that one of the constraining factors for promoting Chinese Internet projects in the West is that many of them, such as Sina Weibo (local Twitter), Renren (social network), etc., firstly , still haven’t been translated into English, and secondly (which is much more important), 99% of user content on these networks is published in Chinese. For WeChat, the situation is easier in this regard, since there is an interface translation, but Due to the specifics of the application, the issue with the language of the content is not so important, since communication in most cases goes with his friends).

    As you can see, WeChat has opportunities and potential. According to Ma himself, “In Asia, the market for exclusively mobile applications is developing even faster than in the West” (in his opinion, Western developers are still primarily “tied” to “PC and Web”). In addition to mainland China, at the moment, Wechat is slowly gaining popularity in Hong Kong, in Taiwan. Quite a lot of Tencent invests in promoting WeChat in Southeast Asia: through cooperation with local companies (and the formation of joint ventures) or, as was the case in Indonesia, by organizing a television advertising campaign involving local celebrities. Although wechat is facing a rather long and difficult competition in Southeast Asia, Korean rivals include KakaoTalk or Japanese Line [3]. (Well, the same WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.)

    Tencent has a lot more work to do in the USA. Compared to the above-mentioned regions, Tencent has taken only the first steps on the American continent. The majority of American users of the program are ethnic Chinese permanently residing in the USA or Chinese students who came to study [4] . The niche that WeChat wants to occupy is already taken by programs such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc. Ma Huaten himself considers Facebook to be his main rival (after all, the largest social network in the world) , which has intensified even more after acquiring Instagram. To say whether WeChat will ultimately succeed in the US market, Ma, of course, cannot.

    So can or not?

    Of course, it is not yet possible to unequivocally answer “yes” or “no” to this question. Yes, WeChat has features that its competitors do not have - in particular, combining a large number of functions “under one roof”. But will Western users like this approach? Hard to say. Perhaps it will be more convenient for them to use a separate application for each task: for communication - Facebook / WhatsApp, for uploading photos - Instagram, for video calls - Skype (or analogues) and so on.


    In conclusion, I would like to ask you one question. Before reading this article, did you know what WeChat is?

    1. http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/758036.shtml
    2. Ma (马) in Chinese - “horse”, hence the nickname
    3. http://thenextweb.com/
    4. Another significant share of foreign WeChat users are students who come to study in China

    Only registered users can participate in the survey. Please come in.

    Before reading this article, did you know what WeChat is?

    • 15.4% Yes, I knew, and even tried to use 32
    • 9.1% Knew, but not used 19
    • 6.7% I heard something somewhere 14
    • 68.5% No, the first time I hear 142

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