With over 800 million active users, WeChat is undisputedly the social networking and messaging king of China. A rich developer ecosystem around the app enables you to search the web, order taxis, buy train tickets, order food delivery, pay your bills, and virtually anything else you can imagine – all from one app! No wonder WeChat is the envy of Western companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, all of whom are attempting to build conversational communities to centralize consumer attention.
If you’re not a WeChat user, the abundance of features can be daunting. Don’t worry! We’ve narrowed down the essential features you need to know about to get a headstart with the app.
1. QR Codes
First, each business, person, page, event can all have what is called a WeChat QR code, a 2×2 customized and scannable image. Instead of business cards or phone numbers, people just exchange WeChat QR codes. Virtually all advertisements (e.g. billboard, sign, etc.) include a WeChat QR code to enable easy social following. Even street food vendors print their own WeChat QR codes for customers to can and automatically pay through WeChat payments.
Next, there are groups (aka. Qun). Any one can easily create a group by adding contacts together. Groups are limited to 500 people max (unless you know a WeChat employee who can help you can lift your limit to 1,000+). Some report that the member ceiling is instrumented to prevent riots and public discourse in China. Others say the function is to prevent the creation of massive spamming groups. Once a group gets to 500 members, the creator will typically create another group of the same content with a different set of people. The creator will then cross post the same content multiple times across each of their groups. Businesses use these groups to market their products, similar to how they push information to Facebook groups.
Third, there are WeChat Moments. This is the Facebook newsfeed equivalent, though we find the UI design a bit weaker compared to Facebook’s. In WeChat, the poster has more control over who the moment is shared with. Furthermore, on the Moments stream, you cannot see comments from people you aren’t friends with. So even if one of your friend’s post has dozens of likes or comments, you won’t see them if they’re not from mutual friends. Surprisingly, feedback is generally positive for this limited viewership feature. If you post a photo no one likes, no one else can know that for sure.
Content on WeChat has become so ubiquitous and robust that people are using WeChat as a source of news and internet database. Many times, people no longer go to Baidu, the “Google of China”, and instead search on WeChat for relevant information.
4. WeChat Pay
WeChat Pay is the one of the most popular Chinese payment platforms, second to only Alipay and quickly catching up in market share. In 2017, there were a record of 46 billion “red envelopes” shared on WeChat (up from 8 billion in 2016). Each of these envelopes contain anywhere from a few cents to hundreds of dollars. This payment functionality also ties easily into the Wechat utilities and other functionalities. For example, you can order a taxi, schedule food deliveries, pay utility bills, book train tickets, or even schedule a doctor’s appointment through WeChat.
5. Official Accounts
Official Accounts (OA) are like Facebook Pages for WeChat. Businesses ranging from your local fruit stand man to global conglomerates use them to connect with customers. Unlike Facebook Pages, WeChat OAs are more than just news feeds, but can be fully functional mini-apps inside of WeChat. Instead of downloading a separate app, you can simply engage the OA of a company you want to transact with – whether it be your doctor’s office, your dog washer, or your city’ transportation authority – and seamlessly do business.
The rich diversity and reliability of WeChat’s OAs give the app a superpower no other single app has: attend to your every need without you ever having to leave. Every other major messaging platform, from Facebook Message to Apple iMessage to enterprise solutions like Slack have initiated similar bot & mini-app ecosystems, but none approach the same sheer size and complexity of WeChat’s.
Ted Livingston, CEO of Kik, recently reported at the Talkabot Conference in Austin that more Official Accounts are added to WeChat every day than new sites are added to the internet. For the Chinese, WeChat is the internet.
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