Describing a product or company as “X for China” is a pretty common phrase when talking about the Chinese internet. Explaining Weibo as “Twitter for China” or Dianping as “Yelp for China” helps to give a general introduction to the prominent platforms for those new to the Chinese market.
There are times, however, when an accurate comparison is just simply unavailable, for instance when finding an equivalent to WeChat (Weixin). I’ve heard WeChat described as “WhatsApp for China”, “Venmo for China”, or “email marketing for China”. These comparisons are correct but simply reduce WeChat to just one of its many features. One such comparison I recently came across struck me as strange enough to investigate: WeChat is “Slack for China”.
Chances are, you will have already heard of Slack. If you haven’t, then Slack is a social network for your office. The platform supports instant messages, bulletin-board forums and basic file sharing.
In December 2015, Slack boasted 2 million users across 60,000 “teams”. Each team is essentially an individual company using the platform. This is a solid user base and one that is considered incredibly valuable. Slack’s user-base is still growing; the company is being heralded as the “email killer”. However, Slack is blocked in China.
SLACK FOR CHINA
WeChat currently offers three different accounts: a Subscription account designed for publications, newspapers and blogs; a Service account designed for brands and retailers; and the enterprise account to help internal comms at businesses. (NB. There is a fourth account type announced for launch later in the year to provide a kind-of streaming, HTML5 app to users.)
WeChat’s Enterprise accounts allows a company to set up forums, much like the channels set up in Slack. The accounts are invite-only and so have the privacy needed for internal communications. Unlike Slack, however, the accounts do require a large amount of initial development from the company. The forums are essentially built in HTML5, hosted by the company, and accessed by employees though their personal WeChat accounts. It’s certainly not as simple as Slack’s quick set-up and go feel.
In December, WeChat announced that the platform’s lesser known Enterprise account (WeChat’s Slack equivalent) is currently used by 600,000 firms. 10 times the number of teams boasted by Slack. 10 million employees access Enterprise accounts through their WeChat accounts, Slack reported 2 million users around the same time.
When compared with the 650 million total WeChat users, 10 million who officially use the app with Enterprise accounts seems insignificant. What the stat highlights however is the incredible flexibility of WeChat use in China. Users already spend a significant amount of time on WeChat. Integration with the working-life seems like a natural extension.
WeChat is an all encompassing app, users not only stay in-touch with each other but also to perform so many of life’s tasks. Ordering taxis, paying utility bills, booking hospital visits, playing games, keeping up with latest news and gossip, buying groceries, clothes, can all be accomplished through the app.
Unlike Slack, WeChat doesn’t need to monetise their Enterprise accounts. The additional functionality simply strengthens WeChat’s position as central to so many people’s digital lives. It also has the side benefit of getting more people on the app, and increasing the average screen time for each user. Many Slack users probably try to not access the platform outside of working hours, I’d wager the same isn’t true for WeChat users.
As WeChat further becomes a central hub for these various lifestyle functions, there will be more opportunity to use the WeChat is “X for China” sentence. WeChat platform is the very definition of a digital multi-faceted app and keeping up with its new developments is an essential window into netizens habits in China.