Last week, I went to a panel on WeChat Product Philosophy and Innovation,which included key and founding members of the WeChat product and engineering teams who shared product insights and data outside of China for the first time. The panel was moderated by connie chan, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz.
WeChat has grown from a chat and messaging app into China’s most impactful and engaged platform for communication, services, and payments with over 600 million monthly active users.
First up was Stephen Wang, a senior PM at WeChat. He discussed the philosophy of the “WeChat Lifestyle” and how they’ve built features to address everyday problems for users, thereby solidifying their product’s utility in all aspects of their users’ lives.
“We measure growth not by number of users or chat messages, but by how deeply our product is engaged in every aspect of a user’s lifestyle.”
He cited their MAUs at 600 million, though they don’t feel this is an accurate reflection of user impact. “As a chat and social app, ideal use is repetitive use, the integration of a product in daily life.”
WeChat launched in January 2011, and it now has 570,000,000 average daily logged in users — a number from September 2015. Wang distinguishes between daily actives, where an “active user” is someone who interacts with another account, whether sending, sharing social networking post, or interacting (like/comment).
Daily actives grew 49% last year, and 64% this year. Daily usage growth continues to accelerate — their daily actives are growing at a faster rate than their monthly actives.
WeChat has a 93% saturation rate in first-tier cities. (They calculate this from their number of active users versus the last reported overall population for that city.) In China, first tier cities are the most populous, wealthy cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen — also known as “The Big Four.” He acknowledge this percentage was ridiculously high, citing people using multiple accounts as one explanation. “We don’t try to actively limit multiple accounts, but it is rather difficult because you need your own mobile phone number to register.” They also retire accounts after certain non-usage.
day in the life of wechat
To illustrate this “lifestyle” concept, Wang walked through a typical Chinese user’s day with WeChat and the multiple touchpoints in their daily lives.
- Wake up and check Moments
- Read two articles and play two games on the way to work
- Get McDonald’s breakfast (also popular in China), pay for breakfast using WeChat Pay
- Start work, look at group chats
- During morning watercooler chat, catch up on friend group messages, either other groups outside of work or old college classmates
- Lunch: split bill or pay friends using “Lucky Money” — WeChat’s take on peer to peer payments, which reduces the social inhibitions of giving money to friend. (More on Lucky Money below, but in China for the Chinese New Year, there is a longstanding tradition of something called “red envelope” or “hong bao” 红包. It’s money given in a red envelope for holidays or special occasions like weddings. WeChat digitized this tradition.)
- After lunch — use WeChat’s shopping entry way to jd.com and buy stuff
- Browse Moments on way home from work
- Stop by supermarket and get groceries using WeChat Pay
- Watch tv after dinner. Dual screen, playing with WeChat, checking Moments, group chatting
- Browse Moments before bed
“At every time throughout the day, there is a touchpoint between WeChat and your normal life.”
Last year the peak engagement time was 22:30, and this year so far it’s 22:00.
Every day, users create 280 million minutes worth of video and voice calls. Every day on WeChat, there are 540 years’ worth of video and voice calls.
“What started as a chat app has grown into something encompassing a whole wealth of features and touchpoints. A real growth area is real time communication.”
in one year
Moments has become a diary shared with friends for many users. The WeChat team looked at one year of Moments data and analyzed for a couple things:
There’s a cyclical pattern for a user’s mood in China.
- People are more positive on weekends than on weekdays.
- Overall, the holidays correlate to more positive times.
- Chinese New Year 春节 and the Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节 are the most popular holidays and have the highest positive sentiment during the year.
- Younger users (10–30 years old) are more negative. If you’re in the range 30–60 years you tend to share more positive thoughts on Moments.
Wang presented some social data around their core products — Chat and Moments.
- Group chat sending frequency exploded after CNY this year. They recently upped the limits for number of people who can group video chat for free — the limit is 9. This was possible because of the investment in infrastructure and engineering they made to speed up their product.
- The most popular regions outside of mainland China receiving video and voice calls from WeChat are USA, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, and Taiwan. For historical reasons, Hong Kong and Taiwan are considered “overseas regions.”
- The most popular sticker set in China is the recently released “Bubble pup sticker.” But there are taste differences in stickers around the world.
This feature was introduced in 2014 for Chinese New Year.
There is a longstanding tradition in Chinese culture for a “red envelope” or “hong bao” 红包. It’s money given in a red envelope for holidays or special occasions like weddings. WeChat digitized this tradition and brought into their app to create a fun, delightful experience of person to person payments.
Wang says this past Chinese New Year (early February) was the change point for mobile payments in China. On Mid-Autumn Festival in mid September, over 100 million users used the feature in a single day.
Lucky Money is an example of how WeChat is trying to pioneer new ways of expression. “We want to make sending money as easy as chat. How do you turn payments into a form of expression?” Wang says. You see this with stickers, which is another form of expression.
Users who send at least one Lucky Money in a day on average are sending four Lucky Money envelopes daily. Users who are sending stickers send an average of 6 stickers per day.
You as a sender select an amount you want to send, total. Then you choose a group of recipients. To make this “fun” and “lucky,” it works like this: they randomly divide up this sum among the people you want to send it to, so one person will get a larger sum than the others. (You can see who “won” each Lucky Money round.)
In 2012, WeChat introduced official accounts (brands, publications), which have the ability to push articles/broadcast messaging for users. This is capped to once per day. These official accounts can embed a link to an article which is hosted on WeChat platform. They open up in a web view which is “controlled, fast, clean, and safe.”
What kind of content is most popular?
- If you were born in the 90s… it’s celebrity gossip. Chinese millennials are obsessed with this boy group called TFBOYS. They are crazzzy hype on WeChat.)
- If you were born in the 80s… they care most about national issues. Stories like Xi Jin Ping’s visit to the States.
- And for those born in the 60s… they are the Chicken Soup for the Soul types. They love sharing wellness and self-help articles in particular.
Every month, WeChat users read the equivalent of one novel. (Sounds familiar…) On a daily basis, users read an average of 7 articles a day — with an average of 1,000 characters per article.
This is an opt-in account that people can choose to add, which links your device’s step counter within WeChat. [Ed — This model of app-within-an-app is very interesting, and really unlike most of the mobile apps I use on a daily basis. I also love the continuity with the “chat” paradigm — the pattern of adding an account is already familiar and ingrained for WeChat users who are trained to add their friends, and rather build a fitness feature as a separate tacked on thing, they integrated this into the main experience.]
WeRun is a social way to compare your fitness to that of your friends. You can see a leaderboard, follow a friend’s step counts, and get warned if someone is hot on your tail.
Wang says they found that 8–9p is the peak hour for walking among WeChat users — a bit of exercise after dinner, he surmises.
Also step counts are higher on the weekdays than on the weekends. Everyone needs some down time.
In launching this feature, they created a charity benefit called “Everybody Loves” as a way of introducing WeRun. This charity aimed to get users to pledge and contribute steps. By the end of this campaign, WeChat users combined for 168 billion steps, and raised the equivalent of 5 million USD.
“This is the equivalent of a one day trip to Mars. And it was just a single event to kickstart fitness on WeChat.”
Men spend 1.3x more per capita than women. 💁🏻
- More than 15% of active users play games
- 75% are playing for 10 minutes or more per day.
- The top genres are board games and more casual ones. Chinese gamers are chillers.
60% of WeChat’s user base are 15–29 years old.
They have 128 friends on average, and after graduating and entering workforce, their friend list grows by 20%.
Young users account for 58% of all long distance video and voice calls.
Their peak shopping times are 10a and 10p.
Their most popular items from September were:
- phone rechargers
- winter clothes
- selfie sticks
People born in 80s comprised a majority of Lucky Money senders during CNY. The biggest spenders on WeChat spent more than 5,000 RMB during the holidays.
Wang also talked about which entertainment products — movies, songs, tv shows — are most popular among Chinese consumers.
One of the hottest songs was “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa, from the Furious 7 soundtrack. One of the most popular movies was Furious 7. 3 of the 5 most popular TV shows in China have to do with singing.
- Chinese people love Furious 7 and Vin Diesel
- If you want a TV show to succeed in China, make it about singing
mobile in china
The most popular phone brands are:
There’s a misconception about China as an emerging market when it comes to technology. This is absolutely not the case. Broadband and mobile engagement are all very advanced and mature. The expectations from consumers are high.
Uses of mobile on a per minute basis are higher than the US.
It’s a barcode scanner, nothing fancy like NFC, and it covers 100% of smartphones. They use QR codes, because their users are used to showing QR codes — it’s how they add people. WeChat Pay uses a very similar flow that users got accustomed to for adding friends.
For in-app payments, like a car share service, you simply hit “pay” and then verify touch ID fingerprint, and it’s paid.
challenges for wechat
- How do we create more touch points to give people during day and deepen the relationship with WeChat users?
- How do we serve daily user problems in market outside of China?
- For 4th and 5th tier cities in China (which have populations of “only” 5 million), there’s a challenge in adoption here.
- Also a challenge in growing internationally. It’s not just about grabbing users to register, says Wang — “We want a successful WeChat user to be using WeChat outside of just chat.”
“You need to know your principles to make decisions.”
There are four kinds of information people share on WeChat: text, photo, url, video. They think about these types of information based on both value and efficiency. Video is not “efficient” — tends to be large, high creation value, so they introduced “Sight,” which is short video that autoplays in the Moments feed.
Lin says what’s better is not simply being different or innovative, but providing more user value.
She also distinguishes between a message and content —
A message is something you use to communicate. You chat with friends over video.
But content is something you want to share, like a video clip in Moments.