WeChat (or 微信 in Chinese, which translates to "micro message") is a Chinese mobile text and voice message app service. It was developed by Tencent, and first released of January of 2011. But it is so much more than that.
Boasting over 1 billion accounts and over 600 million active monthly users (including 70 million outside of China) the app is available on basically every type of phone and mobile device. What really sets WeChat apart from other social media, messaging, or network apps is the absurdly wide variety of things a user can do via WeChat.
The app allows users to text, voice message, broadcast (one-to-many) message, video conference, play video games, edit photos, share photos and videos, share locations, share contacts, integrate with other social networks including Facebook, provide users with machine translation services, share music, make payments and transfer money with the WeChat Payment service including peer-to-peer transfers and bill payments with one click, and, in cities throughout China, book doctor's appointments, get feeds from traffic cameras, book local and long-distance transportation, book cabs, get updates on air quality, buy clothes, buy movie tickets, pay traffic tickets, order food from local vendors, check the news, contact the police, and more.
This sort of 'swiss army knife' approach of a social app's capabilities is not new. Facebook is, it seems, constantly adding on services and capabilities, but WeChat is still leaving the rest of the social world behind in what it can do for its users. And the businesses outside of Asia are finally starting to take notice.
Lauren Johnson of AdWeek explores this in her recent article "5 Things Brands Need to Know About WeChat, China's Mobile Giant" and is worth reading for anyone interested in China's massive market possibilities. One of the most interesting things she notes about WeChat is how engaged its users are, as many of them (more than 50%) open the app 10 times a day.
Johnson's also notes the complications that come with brands trying to use WeChat to spread their message. There are two options for building a brand on the social network, a subscription account and a service account, each one with restrictions on how often messages can be pushed out and how often followers can be contacted. This can make communication and breaking through the social media noise difficult for brands, and makes building up a large follower base on the network very important.
Advertising on WeChat is also limited. Where Facebook makes almost all its revenue from ads, WeChat's ad revenue is only 15% of its total income (it makes most of its money off of payments for its many, many services) so it is less desperate to get advertisers to pony up the dough needed to be seen, though when they do, WeChat is capable of allowing advertisers to target customers via the usual demographic lines of age, sex, location, and type of mobile device.
So, like many things happening in China right now, brands looking to expand onto WeChat would be better off making a long-term commitment to the growing social giant than a slapdash effort to brand and run. There are 600 million potential customers, if brands want to reach them, they better be ready to put in the effort.