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.
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.