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How WeChat Is Changing the Way Facebook Does Business

WeChat Messenger, for the most part, doesn’t have to worry about competition from Facebook. After all, most of WeChat’s users are located in China, where Facebook is blocked. However, the free messaging and social media app has been creeping beyond the borders of China and Hong Kong into Europe and North America, and you can bet Facebook is taking notice.

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In its home country, WeChat’s utilization rate is extraordinarily high, and users spend 1 hour inside the app per day on average, compared to just 40 minutes for Facebook. It’s not surprising, then, that Facebook is trying to proactively expand its services and integrate itself more fully into the lives of its users before WeChat acquires a large enough presence here and is able to offer the smorgasbord of services its Chinese users enjoy to Americans.

Here are a few ways that Facebook is trying to emulate WeChat.

WeChat-inspired features in Facebook Messenger

Most of the changes Facebook has implemented in an attempt to offer a broader variety of services to its users a la WeChat are happening in its separate mobile messaging app, Messenger. Here are some of the recent features that were at least partially inspired by WeChat:

Free peer-to-peer money transfers: One of WeChat’s most successful platforms is its payment system known as WeChat Pay. It rivals other major payment systems like PayPal and Alibaba in terms of transaction dollars and allows Chinese users to use WeChat for just about every aspect of their day to day lives.

Free voice calls: Voice calling has long been standard in WeChat and similar messenger apps, so it was only a matter of time before Facebook picked up this feature.

Maps from within the messaging app: The key to WeChat’s success has been to offer as many services from within the app as possible, making it more akin to a web browser with each individual service or internal app acting as a web page. Mapping services is a good start for Facebook Messenger.

Options for developers: WeChat’s many internal apps are largely developed by third parties who are eager to harness the purchasing power of the hundreds of millions of Chinese customers using WeChat. Facebook has recently created a platform where developers can work on building new features to run in Messenger.

Opening the door to third party companies: WeChat’s mutually beneficial relationship with other companies, from taxi cabs to food delivery to retail stores, has been key to its success. It looks like Facebook (and its subsidiary WhatsApp) are taking note, as they have begun charging companies to integrate their apps into its messenger service.

WeChat is learning from Facebook, too

As with most things, this emulation works both ways. There are a few lessons that WeChat has picked up from Facebook, including the addition of advertisements to the Moments area of its social network area, much in the same way you’ll see ads when scrolling through your Facebook Timeline. Another major development for WeChat was making advertising opportunities more accessible to smaller, more local companies, which until now were excluded from promoting their businesses in this way.

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Why Travelers and Businesses Need to Download WeChat

The social messaging app WeChat has been slowly but surely expanding its reach beyond east Asia over the past couple of years, but considering that only a small fraction of its features are available to users outside its home country of China, most Westerners really haven’t grasped exactly how crucial it is to download WeChat if you will be traveling to China. One tech company specializing in making WeChat work for non-China based businesses insists that you need to have WeChat, even if you will only be in China for a week – and that goes for tourists as well as business owners.

Travelers and Businesses Need to Download WeChat

How startups are finding success on WeChat

One of the biggest hurdles startup businesses have to overcome is engagement with potential users/customers. Lately, forward-thinking entrepreneurs have been trying to attract a mobile-obsessed consumer base by paying thousands of dollars to develop their own apps for Android, iOS and other major operating systems. What they have found, however, is there is a lot of “friction” that keeps a new potential customer from downloading that app in the first place.

This is where WeChat comes in.

Startups who have opted to file for Official Account status on WeChat instead of creating their own app have found that they are able to reach exponentially more users, with less of that “friction” and a lot less upfront costs. This is especially true for companies who are able to get a Chinese WeChat Official Account to appeal to that country’s consumer base – take the following statistics, for example:

There are approximately 1 billion registered WeChat accounts in China, with around 700 million active monthly users. 55% of them check WeChat at least 10 times each day, 200 million of them have their credit cards linked to their accounts, and 83% use it to buy products and services online.

Those are numbers that any business would be wise to take advantage of.

WeChat downloads for visitors and ex-pats in China

Anyone traveling to China for business or pleasure will see firsthand how ingrained this multi-functional app has become in the daily life of the average urban Chinese person. WeChat has expanded to accommodate its users’ daily and even hourly needs, with millions of businesses offering app-like experiences within WeChat to do anything from hailing a cab or ordering food to making a doctor’s appointment and paying your water bill. It’s no doubt the best way to stay connected to the new people you meet in China, especially business contacts.

The obstacle that many visitors and ex-pats run into, however, is that most of these services are only available in Chinese, which is of course an extremely difficult language to learn how to read as an adult. Luckily, there are a few new applications designed to work WeChat for English-speaking users so that they can get some of the same services enjoyed by Chinese users in China: these include the app “NiHao” (Mandarin for “Hello”), as well as ExpatsExpress. These apps can help English speakers in China use WeChat’s mobile payment service, book many types of services and buy products in this mobile environment.

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What WeChat Has In Store for Us In 2016

WeChat has been playing second fiddle to WhatsApp on an international scale, with around 600 million users, most of which are in China, compared to 900 million. But if WeChat follows through on some of the expectations pundits have set for it, that may very well change in 2016. Between recently added features like WeChat Out and plans to expand WeChat wallet services into more countries and develop proprietary virtual reality technology, this could be the year that WeChat takes over the world.

wechat 2016

WeChat Out calling feature

WeChat Out is a new feature that allows WeChat users to call friends and family who don’t use the app, including cell phones and landline calls, for a small fee. As a New Year’s gift, WeChat gave all of its users 99 cents worth of WeChat Out credit, enough to make roughly 100 minutes worth of free calls using the new service. The development of this service appears to be direct competition with other messaging services, like Skype and WhatsApp, which allow calls to be made to non-user mobile phones and landlines. WeChat Out is currently available to users in the United States, Hong Kong and India, with plans to expand to many more countries soon. Considering that WeChat already offers tons of services that other instant messengers can only dream of, it looks like it won’t be long before the other apps have nothing to keep them going but name recognition.

Expanded WeChat wallet services

If there is a single factor that can be named as the reason behind the rapid growth and success of WeChat, it’s the wallet services. In China, this allows users to do dozens of day to day tasks through WeChat, including hailing a taxi, buying groceries, making a doctor’s appointment, and ordering food for delivery. Right now, wallet services are only available in China and to a lesser extent in South Africa, but it looks like WeChat is working to change that. They recently invested in a South Korean internet bank, suggesting that they will move to expand WeChat wallet services into other Asian countries first. We can only imagine that they will be working to expand into Europe and North America as soon as possible, considering the incredible business growth they have seen as a result of these integrated services.

A future of virtual reality for WeChat

In late 2015, WeChat announced that it is working on developing their own proprietary head-mounted virtual reality device and a VR game console to go with it. This technology is, of course, quite complicated, so it’s possible that we won’t see this come to fruition in 2016. However, we would expect the company to provide the public with regular updates on the progress of this project, since anything with “virtual reality” is bound to attract publicity and the attention of new potential users.

If you haven’t downloaded WeChat yet, it’s easy to do! You can download WeChat for free from your device’s official application store.

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Cool Uses for WeChat around the World

When WeChat first came out in 2011, the US and European markets were already getting close to saturation with other instant messaging apps, especially WhatsApp. So while WeChat has been gaining traction slowly in these countries, in other parts of the world it has caught on like wildfire and shows no signs of stopping. In all of China’s major cities (population 10 million or more), 90% of people are registered with WeChat. Being that the app is based in China, created by the company TenCent, it makes sense that its highest usage rates would be at home. But you might be shocked to learn some of the crazy ways WeChat is being used in China and other countries. Read on to learn more about how WeChat can be so much more than stickers and instant messages.


In China, WeChat is used for cashless payment in stores

Granted, not all stores accept WeChat payment yet, but the number of businesses that will take an electronic, 100% cashless payment via WeChat is growing every day. Some businesses even have public WeChat accounts and sell things directly through the WeChat app.

What’s more, people in China can pay their utility bills using WeChat, reload prepaid phone plans, and send money between friends. Aside from being a useful way to pay your friend back for lunch, it’s also closely in touch with Chinese culture. For Chinese New Year, it is traditional to send red envelopes with “lucky money” to friends and family to bring prosperity in the coming year. The Chinese version of WeChat has a Lucky Envelope feature that lets people pick a total amount of money to send to select contacts, and the app will send random amounts to those people. Pretty neat!

In China, all you need to get a taxi is WeChat

You can not only hail a taxi directly from WeChat, you can also track the driver and pay for your trip! This also works with hired cars from the Chinese startup company Didi Kuaidi. Even though they have their own application, you can manage everything without ever leaving WeChat.

In South Africa, WeChat is helping people find jobs

This is a really great example of WeChat investing to make the world a better place. WeChat has already invested in a South African startup company called M4JAM (“money for jam”) which operates exclusively through WeChat to help users find local micro-jobs. WeChat has pledged to invest even more money in startups in South Africa and Nigeria, helping the local communities while also taking advantage of the growing number of smartphone users in that region.

In Hong Kong, WeChat raises donations for UNICEF

A partnership between UNICEF Hong Kong and WeChat is raising money that will help people in the direst of situations around the world. From the Syria crisis to the Nepal earthquake and other global crises, WeChat is getting the younger generations involved with charitable giving in a way that resonates with them. Donations to charities through WeChat are facilitated by the application’s powerful and secure payment platform, making it more convenient than ever for residents of Hong Kong and other countries to get involved and help their fellow man.

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