WeChat, the Chinese mobile app set to conquer the world

03 Jan 2013



Today we’re talking about a phenomenon that is taking over the Chinese mobile market – and not only that: the messenger app Weixin (also known as WeChat).

A few days ago we discussed the latest news from the social media scenario in China, which keeps on evolving at dizzying pace.

In order to really understand what’s going on, Weixin is one of the platforms to keep an eye on. It’s owned by the holding company Tencent – which also owns the giant messaging platform QQ – and it was launched in early 2011, then re-branded as WeChat in mid-2012 to enter the international market (here are some pictures of the launch party).

Why is this app so interesting? First of all because it’s the first web application created for the Chinese market but also available in English, and also integrated with Facebook (which we all know is blocked by the “Great Digital Wall”).

Then because it presents a wide range of features, definitely not original, but certainly very well-functioning and well-integrated, which we are going to explore in a bit. In fact, it’s not a case the app already has over 300 million users – less than 2 years after its launch.

Ok, we probably can’t speak of an international success yet – only 5% of the downloads come from out of China – but the signs of a potential global expansion are strong: recently the New York Times dedicated an article to WeChat, highlighting different aspects of the product. Including the “Made in China” factor, which is not necessarily an advantage, to the point that the English version of WeChat website doesn’t mention its Chinese origins.

Tencent’s aim is clearly to cross the national borders: a few months ago the app has been officially launched in Indonesia, one of the fastest growing mobile markets at the moment , thus frontally attacking competitors such as BBM and WhatsApp. Side note: cool WeChat-themed parties are one of their strategies to break into new markets


wechat app


Let’s see how it works: it may conquer the planet or it may not, but it’s always a good thing to understand what works in a country like China.


Messenger & video call

The main function of Weixin is mobile messaging, which puts it in direct competition with worldwide known services like WhatsApp, ChatOn, BBM, iMessenger, Google Talk. But also with competitors in the Asia-Pacific region, such as mobile apps Kakao Talk – extremely popular in Korea – and Line, a fresh Japanese product. Both of them are used by tens of millions of users, and already started their international expansion.


The chat allows users to share an irresistible set of funny emoticons – which is crucial for Asian audiences, considering that both Kakao and Line have a built-in market for emoticons. Also, two of the most important features are the audio messages sharing and the possibility to make video calls. They both work really good.


QR code

Another interesting thing about WeChat is the “desktop mode”: by simply going to and scanning the QR code that appears, all contacts and open chats are immediately transferred from the phone to the computer. After closing the session everything is deleted.


wechat web


The QR code technology is also used as a digital ID: once it has been generated, users can connect with each other by scanning the personal code with the phone. Quick and painless.



The Look Around feature allows users to see at any time who is using WeChat around them, and how far they’re located. Ok, not the best in terms of privacy, but is it really a problem nowadays?

wechat look around



Of course there’s a “social” section called Moments, where to share photos and updates visible to all contacts. From a graphic standpoint it’s very similar to Facebook or Path, with a timeline cover, Likes and comments. This is probably  the feature that could give the right boost to the international spread of WeChat.



Photo sharing

And how about Instagram? Don’t worry, they also thought about that: vintage-ish filters can be applied after taking a picture, and of course pics can be shared in the Moments section.

wechat instagram



Another peculiar aspect of the app is the Shake feature: by shaking the phone WeChat connects random people in the world that are doing the same action at the same moment. Similarities with “Chatroulette” are strong, and it’s not unlikely to find scammers or “nice girls” inviting to share porn pics. Interesting feature, yet to be used with caution.


Marketing on WeChat? 

Jing Daily reported that “in less than two years WeChat has exploded in popularity among China’s 20-something white collar demographic in top-tier cities”. This is clearly an amazing opportunity for brands all over the world – it’s not a coincidence the Jing Daily article is called For Luxury Brands In China, WeChat Is The Place To Be”

It seems that Starbucks has been the first big fish to test the app as a marketing tool: right after the the “Following” function has been introduced – to receive updates from celebrities and brands – the coffeehouse chain has offered the possibility to follow the brand to get emoticons and product offers.


Starbucks WeChat


Let’s be clear: it’s hard to define this a cool mobile marketing campaign, but it’s an important starting point. Other than that, there are a number of new prospects for the future: may we say that mobile chat could be a great opportunity for customer care?

Yes, we may say that: this article from The Mobile Indian identifies the phone as the perfect tool for customer help, since it responds to the increasing need for 24/7 immediate support much better than any other device.

But not only customer care: messaging apps can be used to provide contents and entertainment in real time. In fact, also Nike has been among the first global brands to jump on the WeChat bandwagon, with a campaign during the Nike Festival of Sport in Shanghai. Users could scan QRcodes and get access to a series of content right from their phone:



And Cadillac tried to go a bit further with the “Discover route 66″ campaign, integrating Sina Weibo and WeChat to keep users updated on what’s going on along the popular American highway (found on Social Mouths).


Cadillac WeChat


You can download the app on the IOS, Android, Nokia, BlackBerry and Windows Phone stores, and give it a try. And evetually, add me on WeChat: it’s as easy as scanning a QR code:

wechat QR code

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.


One Response to “WeChat, the Chinese mobile app set to conquer the world”

  1. [...] Not to talk about the numerous booming mobile-based messaging/social networking apps, like Weixin or PaPa. [...]

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