WeChat is huge. You may have never heard of it and if you have you may not understand just how huge it really is. 11 Billion registered accounts. 650 million active users. 44 minutes a day on average is spent in this single app.
What is WeChat? WeChat is a text and voice based messaging system that can support “touch to talk” technology, conference calls, local networking, photos. It is a bit of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram rolled into one app and a massive, multi-country social network.
Successful from its introduction to the market in 2010 as a way to provide low cost messaging for mobile phone users in asian countries, WeChat and its parent company Tencent have been making improvements and evolving it every since. It natively supports every major platform and continues to add features to support both personal and business to business communications.
Why is WeChat so important? WeChat is a category leader for a new type of communication paradigm. WeChat is acting as a walled-garden ecosystem. Users can talk, chat, search, engage with brands, conduct business transactions, even play games without leaving the app itself. This is a huge change. WeChat’s massive success in China, a focal market for America’s tech brands, has every player considering counter strategies.
Google is rumored to be working on a new chat application that provides plain-language search responses through artificial intelligence (a chatbot for it’s own services, like Android), Facebook has been experimenting with “M”, Apple continues to push Siri to serve a broader role on iOS devices with more capabilities and access to more apps. The value of these eco-systems is going to be the platform war for the next 5-10 years.
For brands, this is going to be a massive strategy shift. Digital Strategist today are moving their clients towards social media and channel where customers are already active and consuming content. To participate in an ecosystem like WeChat, brands have to completely rethink marketing strategies. Not only will each “service” bring its own protocols, cultures, and formats, but managing acquisition and retention programs will require a reboot.
For many American companies, WeChat sounds like an unlikely departure from current marketing and platform strategies. And with the relatively few number of Americans using WeChat, I understand any apprehension. I think if we take that same position and consider that more than 64% of Americans are on Facebook and are spending upwards of 40 minutes per day on the social network, Facebook’s own “walled garden” approach to user management lends itself to a native business strategy for anyone trying to engage customers on social media.
Chat applications, such as Facebook’s are becoming an overriding value proposition to end users of social networks. Facebook’s own messenger application is beginning to cannibalize the brand’s core application for younger Americans. Considering that none of these eco-systems co-operate with one another and are based on competing standards, additional utilities such as support for commerce, voice-support, and additional features will put them on a road to mirror WeChat very quickly. Brands: take notice.
So should brands retire their websites and create WeChat channels and Facebook pages? No. What brands should do is begin to experiment with native engagement with their audience. Even for the healthcare brands that I regularly work with: begin to build customer service support for Facebook, Twitter, and other channels where your audiences are active. If you are a global brand, you should definitely be working on developing a solution to support customers on WeChat, Line, and WhatsApp. Begin to develop intelligence on where your audience is active and what the culture of these channels are.