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WeChat’s dominance of the messaging app space in China should not be news to anyone. By the end of 2016, WeChat reported having 889.3 million monthly active users (MAUs), a figure that puts the service—if not in the same league—at least in the same neighborhood as global goliath Facebook.
WeChat has also evolved from a simple messaging platform to something resembling a full-fledged mobile operating system.
The service has acted as the gateway for China’s newly minted internet users to expand beyond online communications tools to other digital activities, including ecommerce, digital payments and online wealth management.
But WeChat continues to evolve in ways that may surprise even its closest fans and followers. Here are four insights taken from the recently published “2017 WeChat User and Business Ecosystem Report” from China Tech Insights, a research arm of WeChat parent company Tencent, and the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), a governmental research organization.
No. 1: Users Are Spending More Time on WeChat
The myriad of services now available to WeChat users gives them good reason to spend an increasing amount of time on the platform. The report found that 34.6% of those surveyed spent an average of 4 hours or more on WeChat per day in 2016, up from 17.2% in 2015. The percentage of users who spent an average of 2 to 4 hours increased from 15.3% to 18.4% over the same time period.
No. 2: There May Be a Willingness to Pay for Content
Earlier this year, WeChat acknowledged it would begin allowing official accounts—those reserved for businesses, brands and celebrities—to offer users the option of paying for content. That move opens up a whole new potential revenue stream for the platform, which would likely take a cut of payments made by users to content creators.
According to the report, 57% of users are willing to pay for content, indicating the service might overcome the widespread expectation that online content means free content. The survey showed that users were most willing to pay for content after reading it, and least likely to buy into paid content when they were charged on a per-piece basis.
No. 3: Miniprograms Have Yet to Catch On
The report revealed that WeChat’s “miniprograms,” a new feature launched earlier this year that lets users access a range of services without leaving WeChat’s native mobile app, have yet to become a commonly used tool.
The unveiling of miniprograms was widely hailed as a possible sea change for WeChat usage, but only 20.4% of those surveyed had used one. In addition, almost one-third (32.8%) of respondents had never even heard of miniprograms, a clear indication that WeChat needs to do a better job educating its users about their potential benefits.
No. 4: WeChat Makes a Bid for the Workplace
WeChat is increasingly being used at the workplace. The report found that 80% of users had used the platform for a job-related task, but those uses largely hewed close to its origins as a messaging platform. About half of users had relied on WeChat to coordinate and arrange work tasks, while roughly the same percentage had made work-related notifications through the service.
While much attention has been focused on WeChat’s consumer-facing services, the company has made efforts to cater to the needs of businesses as well. It now includes internal communications features for companies, along with tools to aid in networking efforts. It’s likely WeChat is using these new tools to go after enterprise clients that could provide potentially lucrative new revenue streams.
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