While American digital media progresses through a variety of virtual channels, its Chinese counterpart is but one pervasive APP that renders everything else obsolete. In the recent Cosmopolitan article These 10 apps are worst for your phone battery, WeChat ranked #9 despite being barely known outside the Chinese context. I am actually impressed that it did not rank higher because compared to the #1 ranking Facebook, WeChat is not just its Chinese substitute but all ten apps combined. Per its owner Tencent, WeChat has reached over 1.1 billion registered users, of which 762 million are active monthly and 68.6% falls between the ages 16-65.
Monopolizing China’s social media, the usual texting, voice messaging, and video-chatting functions characteristic of FaceTime, Skype, and WhatsApp are only a small portion of WeChat’s online society. Snapchat’s 10 second video sharing is incorporated into Facebook’s timeline in WeChat’s “friend circle”, where friends may upload “small videos” of what they are currently up to. Instagram’s photo display is put in your WeChat picture calendar by default. Bloggers and vloggers gain fame through their public WeChat publishing accounts, from which they release articles and the Chinese equivalent of Youtube videos. As a subscriber, you may then “retweet” their contents to your personal friend circle for a marvelous rippling effect.
Under WeChat’s “discover” tap, you may directly access the Chinese Amazon “Jingdong”, which has a comprehensive list of commercial categories ranging from furnitures to automobiles. Ebay’s famous auction model is one amongst many ways to purchase an item while combining your bill with friends for a cheaper wholesale price is another. That being said, e-Commerce providers may also open online shops right through their public WeChat service accounts. According to Glossy’s article The Dior’s guide to selling luxury on WeChat, all the Lady Dior bags attributed to Dior’s WeChat account were sold out on the day of release. Through WeChat, Dior was able to monetize subscribers by customizing their purchases with add-ons. Customers would then pay with the Chinese Paypal “WeChat Pay” that binds their bank accounts to WeChat’s paperless payment facility. Other luxury brands such as Burberry, Gucci, and Michael Kors quickly followed Dior’s example, and “WeShop” soon became viral.
WeChat has evolved into a vital part of professional networking and daily work. That LinkedIn has consistently failed to “link in” China is because WeChat has completely overtaken its role in connecting employers with employees. At job fairs, you seldom see people carrying name cards since instead, each entity would exchange digital ID aka QR codes that unlock contact information upon scanning. Once connected, people would join WeChat groups that serve as activity boards for upcoming events. Constantly receiving company updates, they would stay on top of job opportunities by refreshing their friend circles. Once employed, the first thing they would do is to not to check their mailbox but open “Enterprise Weixin”, the desktop version of WeChat. If fired, they would be immediately removed from the company’s groups.
On that account, WeChat groups are seldom limited to professional networking but serve the general purpose of relating people with similar interests or goals. I am in the “NYU 2018er” WeChat group that has practically connected me with the entire Chinese community at NYU. I am also in the “Read the entire Bible” group where other Christians keep me in check with my Bible reading progress. I am further in the “Track my weight” healthy eating group where a few of us motivate each other to maintain a healthy weight. My mother is in the “Beijing Foreign Studies University Alumni” group, thanks to which she was reunited with her college mates from the class of 1989. She is also in the “Mom and Afternoon Tea” group and my father is in the “Golf in Beijing” scheduling group.
The aforementioned aside, WeChat holds a plethora of incredibly creative features. Reflective of the Chinese culture, its “red packet” function (a cash gift for good luck) generated close to $5 billion in cashflow from over 32 billion red packets sent during the 2016 Chinese New Year season. The tradition survived even after the holiday had passed, and red packets are now a sign of hospitality amongst friends and families. For larger sums, the function transforms into China’s Venmo. Better, the “go dutch” function on your WeChat wallet does the math and produces a charging link once you enter the total amount and the number of people involved in the transaction. Your WeChat wallet also transfers you straight to the Chinese Yelp and Seamless package known as “Dianping”, accommodating you in making reservations, inspecting restaurants, ordering deliveries, and purchasing Groupons. Any use Expedia or Uber may have is glued to your omnipotent wallet as well; you would finish booking a ride, flight, hotel, or movie/show ticket within a few clicks. Tinder is not forgotten, and your chance of finding true love is significantly increased with WeChat’s “people nearby” feature. By pressing this magic button, prince charming may just hit you up and invite you to a date by the adjacent coffee shop.
In addition to these features, you may pay your phone bills, check the weather and air quality, read your evening newspaper, add friends by shaking your phone, check how you are doing on data and how many steps you walked (“WeRun”) all through the digital universe called WeChat. According to The Economist’s article WeChat’s World, a technology consulting firm in Beijing estimates that WeChat earned roughly $1.8 billion in revenue last year and HSBC appraises its net worth to be over $80 billion. Its groundbreaking success is chiefly due to its all-in-one nature that enables other businesses. WeChat is more a communication platform than a simplistic communication APP subject to perfect competition from other simplistic communication APPs. A growing lifestyle now indispensable, it was initially inspired by western digital media but did not become a replica. Always seeking to innovate, it has acquired individuality by emulating each original concept to a whole new level. In the words of the award-winning author and Forbes writer Helen H. Wang, “It’s Time For Facebook To Copy WeChat”.