What is about to overtake Facebook with a user base of over 1 billion? It’s not the usual suspects like Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn. It is a company that not very many people, especially those in the West are familiar with. But that is about to change, because of the massive growth of the mobile messaging app WeChat, by China’s Tencent.
It was recently that the reigning monarch of social networks – Facebook admitted that their overall growth in their monthly active users had slowed to 18% year-on-year and that they are also losing out on teenage users. Another thing that hasn’t helped its cause is that Facebook, as well as some other Western social networks, are banned in China. Contrastingly, it was recently announced by China’s that their WeChat users have almost tripled from the 85 million of the year before.
Unlike the Facebook-equivalent RenRen and the local Twitter-equivalent Sina Weibo, Tencent’s reach is not restricted to China alone. WeChat was initially called Weixin and was rebranded to appeal to an international audience. And now it is slowly expanding its reach to every part of the world. Between May and September 2013, WeChat has doubled its overseas users from 50m to 100m in just four months’ time. So it how are Tencent and WeChat getting the ball rolling in the right direction in a crowded mobile messaging sphere?
Primarily, WeChat has some pretty awesome features that are keeping users hooked and craving more. On the messaging front, users can bypass the need for voicemail by using the “hold-to-talk” option to send free walkie-talkie style messages. Another innovative function that allows its network to grow is the discovery features that connect users both locally as well as across continents.
WeChat is slowly growing not just through social media, but through social connection. It has combined elements from social platforms such as Twitter’s open approach where anybody can follow anyone, as well as Facebook’ more close policy that relies on mutual friend connections. WeChat gives users the freedom to identify “People Nearby” which can lead to more social connections and thereby, an interesting way of life.
It also has this nifty little feature, where if you “shake” your Smartphone, you can be connected to users around the world who are shaking their Smartphones too at that very moment. Tencent has even brought on board brand ambassadors such as Bollywood actors Varun Dhawan and Parineeti Chopra, soccer star Lionel Messi, and NBA star LeBron James in an effort to grow its international user base. Users can follow and even interact with these brand ambassadors.
Tencent’s roots lie in the localization of what was happening in Silicon Valley as well as in the “copycat innovation”, like many of China’s tech companies. Tencent was founded by graduate Huateng “Pony” Ma, a Shenzhen University computer sciences graduate and his five classmates in 1998. WeChat owes much of its success to the fact that founder Pony Ma made a huge bet on mobile, while other companies still focussed on the desktop and continued to develop only for that platform. The pony was known for investment in and understanding of long-term growth. That is why we decided to shift more than half of Tencent’s 20,000 employees to mobile. And the buck hasn’t stopped yet!