WeChat is the largest social network in China with 809 million active user accounts, it is so integral that users now spend 35% of their time on smartphones on WeChat. The services have now become so integrated with such a variety on offer that the app is essentially a ‘one stop shop’ for Chinese users daily lives. It continues to grow in a unique set of conditions with the ‘great firewall’ excluding any significant western competition.
The development of mini apps or mini ‘programmes’ within WeChat is therefore not a surprising development for such an integrated Chinese service, in-fact for branding it presents a huge opportunity. It can also now compete against rival app stores with it’s captive audience historically favouring inbuilt WeChat services to external ones, this could change the face of the app market in China and have ramifications globally.
WeChat’s newest app feature allows users to access and engage with a variety of apps within the messaging app itself. WeChat parent company Tencent, (with a valuation of US$239 billion) will be the gatekeeper. By doing this WeChat can sidestep Apple and the various Android app stores to provide users with their app fix alongside their social media experience.
It is just another indication that this is WeChat’s world now, for western brands this presents an opportunity to capitalize on the infrastructure connecting such a vast number of potential consumers that are all in one place and highly engaged. In-built apps will strengthen branding in China on the most powerful social platform:
For WeChat this a way to further strengthen their fortress, their application is the most integrated in the world with services ranging from messaging, to photo sharing, gaming, dating, taxi ordering, financial management, geo-localization and e-commerce shopping. WeChat previously had no in-built app service so has nothing to lose by launching it’s own version. The message here is that WeChat can fulfill all your needs, your time spent browsing online is even within WeChat (external links are even opened via the WeChat browser), there is no need to ever leave the application..
How to set Up?
The apps will need to be developed with specialist, local bodies to fulfill the Chinese regulatory requirements, the apps also need to be strongly targeted for Chinese consumers so utilizing local knowledge is vital for re-branding via apps.
More opportunities for engagement
By marrying user apps with official accounts users can be engaged with for longer and at multiple entry points. Intelligent brand communication can be developed within the mini apps, this then can link directly to your official account. Apps are accessed from within a new panel inside WeChat, this is near where hundreds of millions of people regularly go to post photos or links to their ‘Moments’, WeChat’s equivalent to Facebook’s news feed. The new process will likely keep users spending even more time in WeChat. WeChat already accounts for 30% of all mobile online time spent in China.
WeChat have previously been left out of the IOS market
This move ultimately provides Tencent the ability to tap into the lucrative iOS market. Apple’s closed ecosystem means that iPhone users can only download apps from the App Store, locking Tencent out from these lucrative users, whom typically spend more than Android users. Mini Apps provides Tencent the ability to reach iOS consumers from within WeChat and also benefit from their more established, closed system in China, with 700 million active accounts WeChat boasts the largest eco-system, it could effectively shut Apple (who have recently been struggling in China) out of the largest app market ever created.
Branding and engagement through applications
Brands will be able to create games, store apps and service based apps on the WeChat network. WeChat presence is now more important arguably than your official website. On the platform you need to attract subscribers, only once connected to users see your content posted; developing apps is a good way to incentivize users to follow and share brand content. It is important to remember that Chinese specific content needs to be utilized. The Chinese remain very fond of addictive, instant gratification gaming, I see launching game apps like this to be a popular way of going viral for brands. The app ultimately needs to encourage users to share content, their results on the game, or a customized image such as a branded selfie, they need a pay off which is shareable.
Social media developments are now pioneered in China
Users were able to embed multimedia content in social media more than 18 months before Twitter users could do so in the United States and users connect their banking with their WeChat accounts to make payments online and in specific WeChat micro-stores. This combination of e-commerce embedded in a social platform alongside the ease of payment (e-wallet) is world leading. Additionally developing apps within the universe of the social media application is an innovative and industry leading development.
This move reflects the dominance of well designed, leading domestic platforms. It is worth repeating that western versions cannot compete with these established digital infrastructures, what western companies can do is utilize the infrastructure they provide to connect with the vast Chinese consumer audience. WeChat Mini Apps present a greater opportunity to intelligently brand and adapt to the Chinese market in order to succeed.