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Interview with WeChat: meeting the global demand for social experience

23 Sep 2013

Benny-Ho-WeChat

 

We began talking about WeChat a good while ago. Back in the days, it was called Weixin, and few thought it would have become a global player in the social media world.

Over the last months WeChat experienced a global explosion; its power resides in its ability to intercept the needs of nowadays Netizens, demanding easy and integrated mobile social apps.

Also, the app is backed by Tencent, one of the largest Chinese Internet companies, that has recently reached the incredible market stock value of 100 billion dollar – very close to what Facebook Inc. is worth (source: Wall Street Journal).

WeChat is available (and very active) also in Italy, and the Young Digitals team attended the official WeChat launch event on September 12. There we had the chance to set up an interview with Benny Ho, Director of Business Development at Tencent.

After a picture from the pleasant night in Milan, you can check out what he told us.

 

WeChat Party Italy

 

– Hi Benny! After India and Mexico, what makes the Italian market so appealing?

There are two different angles to this question. Considering a broader perspective, it must be said that the social communication platforms market is still a very new market, at a global level. You see it by how quickly we are growing.

The other aspect regards the Italian users’ behavior. The penetration of smartphones is huge, over 30%, while the total mobile market is enormous, with a 120% penetration. In this scenario, the universe for social communication platform will keep on growing for sure. Also, numbers has proven the case: the user behavior matches exactly what we’re offering with WeChat.

We’ve been in the market for over 2 years, and we reached 300 million total users, among them 100 million users out of China. And Italy is already in the top 5 most active countries in voice messaging – after just 2 months!

Speaking of other countries – although I don’t have updated figures since I am focused on Italy – we started our presence in Mexico and India around May, only 4 months  ago, and app stores rankings and analytics are giving us good feedbacks. We’re definitely happy about the way WeChat is performing globally.

 

 From your perspective, how are Italian users different than the Chinese ones?

I think the key difference is not a cultural one. There are of course cultural differences, but the main one is related to the users’ behavior, the different way people connect with their own mobile device.

In Italy the socialization happens on both social media and in real life – Italian people like to chat and talk a lot! China is different. China has a lot of peculiar immigration patterns; a lot of new cities are developing from out of nowhere.

China

Because of this organization, China ends up having cities where people don’t know each other, and smartphones are actually the only way to socialize. 

On the other hand, the Italian culture is more based on the nuclear family structure. Therefore the approach to the app itself is actually quite similar; what really changes is the scenario.

 

– What are the main innovations the 5.0 version brought?

I’d say the key ones are three. One is the sticker shop: it’s the first time ever we’re monetizing through animated images. Now WeChat is offering both paid and free stickers, and we’re building an inventory.

We also introduced a brand new feature: it’s called “Hold together”, and it’s a very cool feature that helps people connecting together if they are in the same place. You press the button, and all the people in a room pop up in the app.

WeChat Hold Together

And then the incremental improvements in users interface, which is something we always do and will keep on doing. They might not be dramatic changes, but they are very important – like simply swiping to go back from the chat to the contact list.

 

– Let’s talk about marketing. What are the main changes in the opportunities offered to brands, both in China and abroad? 

We can divide the brand activity on WeChat into four main drivers: content, promotion, commerce, customer relationship management.

With the 5.0 version we introduced the official “service accounts”, which enable brands to do a lot of different things. I’ll give you some examples: one of the most interesting is the account of Hungama Music, a client operating in the Indian market. Once you access the official account you see a menu bar: after you tap on the music options, and chose between full albums and singles, you can stream music directly from the app.

WeChat Hungama

Another one is McDonalds China: the official account shows three buttons: the menu button, the coupon button, the “Find the nearest location” button. Thanks to the location-based system, WeChat helps users find me the closest store, and eventually give them a coupon. At the end of the day, that’s what can really drive conversions.

The last example I’m giving you is an airways company, China Southern. You can type in the departure day and the departure city, figure out what are the best options and buy the flight – all of it inside the WeChat environment. And that’s not it: the system can generate a QR code that becomes a boarding pass, so you can do everything right on your phone.

 

WeChat China Southern

 

– How can brands take advantage of stickers for marketing purposes?

Again, there are two ways to look at the question – engagement and brand awareness. Brand awareness is the most immediate: every time I see a branded sticker, the brand gets exposition.

But engagement is the most important: brands need to create and publish stickers that communicate emotions. WeChat is a social communication platform, and this is most important thing about stickers. How can we drive emotions such as embarrassment, joy and such? That’s the only way brands can reach customers and create a real engagement, enabling them to spread the message.

 – Thanks Benny!

Guido Ghedin

Guido Ghedin

After his University years between Italy and California, today he deals with Market Research and Digital Scenario Analysis at Young Digitals. You can follow him on Twitter: @guido_ghedin.

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  1. [...] deal has been driven by Internet giant Tencent – the company that launched QQand WeChat, and that recently reached the impressive stock market value of 100 billion [...]

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