WeChat, the most widely used Chinese social media platform in China, is celebrating its eighth year with over a billion monthly active users.
And its founder says that had the app been created or treated like an ordinary communication tool, it would have not been as successful as it is.
“WeChat, actually, is a communication tool but for us it’s [built to be] a lifestyle,” Allen Zhang, the creator of WeChat, said during a four-hour speech at Tencent Holdings’ annual WeChat conference for developers and partners held in Guangzhou last week.
If the multi-purpose messaging and social media app had been built merely as a communication tool, its capability would have been limited, he said.
So, its creators tried to imbed the app with people’s lifestyle needs in order to influence the general public, said Zhang who is senior executive vice president and president of WeChat Group.
As the head of QQ Mail Mobile at the time, Zhang in 2010 led a team of 10 developers to create the first version of WeChat in less than 70 days. He joined Tencent in 2005 and became the head of QQ Mail Mobile after his Foxmail business was bought by Tencent.
WeChat last September reached an important milestone by achieving 1 billion active users. The app and its ecosystem of mini-apps have become a feature in daily life for the majority of Chinese people who seemingly rely on it to do all of their daily chores, from messaging to paying bills to booking public services.
During its journey so far, the app has achieved many breakthroughs, the 49-year-old executive said.
“We changed people’s lifestyles on payment with WeChat Pay mobile payment, they get more friends from checking mobile phones with contact lists, they feel lucky when they get red packets or ‘Ang Pao’ at Chinese New Year,” said the so called Father of WeChat.
With the “People nearby” feature, “it means there are friends always with you in all corners of your lives,” he said.
During his speech, Zhang highlighted WeChat’s Mini Program as one of its core innovative features.
WeChat has tried to build an ecosystem within their app and the Mini Program is a key element in completing that ecosystem, Zhang said.
Launched in 2017, the built-in Mini Program connects online and offline merchants and extended services, such as WeChat Pay, to create a digital and smart living experience that is truly mobile.
Uses have no need to get out of WeChat in order to browse or download external apps in order to see or get other promotions, Zhang said.
“It has already achieved a huge success, but is still improving – especially the search tool that will lead customers to exactly what they are looking for,” he added.
More than 600 million people use the Mini Program at least weekly for services or products from over 200 industry segments, according to WeChat. The number of transactions increased six-fold in 2018. And the feature has now opened for business owners to create their own mini apps in the WeChat ecosystem.
Zhang encouraged developers to develop a Mini Program, allowing high quality programs to proliferate and ensure that users can find just the right program at exactly the time they want it.
The two-day event, the WeChat Open Class PRO 2019, is the firm’s largest annual event. It is a venue for developers and partners to discover the latest digital trends in China and share unique perspectives and the best practices for WeChat.
At the conference, WeChat released its 2018 data report showing that continued growth on the number of people connected to the app. Its usage grew across all age groups, but especially among those over age 55 years who had the fastest growth of any age group last year.
The report claimed that the number of messages being sent continued to rise, with 45 billion messages sent daily, up 18 per cent on the previous year. The number of audio and video calls daily has reached 410 million, an increase of 100 per cent from 2017.
Businesses are also rapidly adopting WeChat, including WeChat Pay, its digital payments platform service, along with its Mini Program to extend mobile and to better connect with customers.
The number of monthly payments by WeChat Pay in 2018 in some industries had seen a considerable increase over the previous year. The retail industry’s monthly WeChat Pay users jumped 150 per cent in the year, and the food industry’s hit a 170 per cent increase.
Monthly users turning to WeChat to pay for public transportation last year soared 470 per cent from 2017. Monthly WeChat Pay users for public medical and healthcare services increased 290 per cent year on year.