At Tencent’s recent annual conference, WeChat Founder Allen Zhang gave a four-hour inspirational speech, outlining the future development of the Chinese social media app WeChat.
How did WeChat start?
When the social app Kik Messenger was launched in America in 2010, Allen Zhang, on the other side of the world, immediately saw an opportunity for social messaging, as text messages at the time could not meet people’s needs to communicate conveniently and effectively. He convinced Pony Ma, founder of Tencent, to develop a new social app and completed the first edition of WeChat with 9 other partners.
WeChat has freed users of mass spam emails and messages by allowing them to add contacts and subscribe to content as they wish. This is different from the SMS era, when people were receiving services on the Internet, but at the cost of providing their mobile phone numbers and accepting irrepressible spam.
Allen Zhang believes that the aim of technology should be to improve people’s efficiency, while almost all apps try to retain users and increase their engagement. “The goal of Internet companies is never to make users get stuck to their mobile phones all the time, besides eating and sleeping,” he said.
The two main changes by WeChat in 2018
1.Time Capsule - the video-streaming feature
In his talk, Allen Zhang shared some statistics about WeChat Moments: Now, around 750 million users use Moments on average ten times a day. However, it is obvious that the anxiety and pressure of WeChat users on how to build their online personas on Moments is increasing. In Zhang’s opinion, communication is essentially a process of showcasing oneself in order to win the recognition of others, and that was why he designed the post-button into a camera icon. “It is much easier for most users to express themselves through a picture than text.”
[WeChat Moment: a basic feature of WeChat that allows you to post text, upload up to nine images as well as share videos and articles; they are only visible to your WeChat friends.]
To encourage people to share their lives in real time rather than through carefully edited photos and writings, WeChat integrated a video-streaming feature that is very similar to Instagram’s story. Click the camera button on the user profile page, and you can record a 15-second video clip and add text, emoji and music. It is only visible for 24 hours, and a blue ring will appear near the profile of those who have recorded an instant story. Viewers can react to the videos by blowing virtual “bubbles”.
WeChat also solved the concerns about what content on their Moments should be seen by others, especially news contacts as their phonebook expands. Users can select to display posts of the last three days, the last 6 months or all posts.
Another highlight of WeChat’s redesign is the “Good Read”section. There are two categories in the “Top Stories” on the Discover page, “Good Read” and “Selected”, which provide content to users based on recommendations from friends and algorithms.
The articles from official accounts shared on Moments get fewer views than before, because users tend to pay more attention to real-life photos and skip links as the information on Moments piles up. There should be a space where users engage in reading, and that is “Top Stories”. By marking articles they have read is an alternative way to spread the word among friends, or improves the user experiences compared to sharing the link to Moments – at least you will no longer see any links to the same article shared by several friends that flood your page.
Top Stories is essentially a type of News Feed and probably offer huge advertising opportunities. But for enterprises that run official WeChat accounts it is going to be harder for their contents to be viewed, as these now need to be engaging and compelling. Users may be more willing to read the post that many friends mark as interesting or useful.
The developing trends in 2019 - WeChat Mini Program
Mini Programs will increasingly replace WeChat stores to meet e-commerce needs and provide better user experience. In the speech, Allen Zhang mentioned the next plans for the WeChat Mini Program, which small businesses should pay much attention to.
The first is to improve the search engine of the Mini Program by expanding the keyword range. For example, when users enter keywords such as skirts in the search engine, only results from Mini Programs whose names contain the keywords are displayed. In the future, however, any Mini Program that either sells skirts or publishes an article related to skirts will be shown in the results. For smaller brands, this will increase their exposure to potential consumers as long as they optimise the keywords for their products.
Second, it is expected that an integrated evaluation system will be set up to facilitate the purchasing behaviour of consumers and also help them discover products. Similar to the post in Top Stories, the Mini Program can be rated by users and the results will be shown in a sentence – X (number) friends already liked the Mini Program, as Allen Zhang envisioned. A recommendation system based on rating from friends makes sense as Chinese consumers rely more on the opinions of their friends and family when making a shopping decision.
WeChat places more emphasis on its marketing capabilities and services through the Mini Program while a set of ranking mechanisms based on social circles also means that competition is getting fiercer. Therefore, brands not only need to launch a WeChat mini-program, but also build a long-term strategy that uses followers’ networks, so that the sharing functions will generate higher sales conversions in 2019.
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