It is no longer the question whether WhatsApp will follow WeChat, but when it will follow WeChat. And when will you? Most likely, you’re using WhatsApp to stay in contact with friends. The instant messaging app was intentionally used for instant text messaging, but later added graphic and voice-over-IP functionality as well.
Not just a messaging app
WeChat is the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp. They offer similar functionalities, but WeChat adds commerce and payments. In China, users who have provided bank account information may use the app to pay bills, order goods and services, transfer money to other users, and pay in stores if the stores offer the WeChat payment solution. Third parties, known as ‘official accounts’, offer these services by developing lightweight ‘apps within the app.’
Freddie Siu, director for CM Telecom in APAC, explains how WeChat has grown into a lot more than just an instant messaging app. “As the name suggests, WeChat was historically a written communication application. But the Tencent teams have gradually added new audio and video communication features. They then capitalised on their knowledge of social networks to propose the publication of statutes or the sharing of photos. It's as if WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram were put together in one application.”
Like Snapchat, WeChat has launched brand accounts, accessible to e-commerce sites or media, and allowing them to send notifications to their subscribers. To subscribe to these accounts, the consumer simply has to scan a QR Code. Finally, Tencent has launched a payment solution, WePay, connected to a bank account. This simplifies payments in a taxi or in a restaurant. Here, it is the consumer who generates a QR code that the merchant must scan to finalise the transaction.
Major shift for brands?
The fact that IM apps focus on other functionalities, means brands and businesses might want to reconsider their mobile strategy. Freddie Siu: “WeChat has demonstrated that an instant messaging application could become a true platform and offer communication services but also commerce or service. Westerners are slightly behind but since this year, Facebook Messenger and iMessage from Apple are opening to third-party APIs to become platforms. As a result, brands must ask themselves if their priority is to design an application and spend a lot of money so that people install it on their smartphone, or if it would not be wise to focus on these new platforms that capture the bulk of the mobile audience.”
Although WhatsApp is by far the major IM application, businesses should not ignore WeChat, Line (Japan), KakoaTalk (South Korea) and Facebook Messenger. As all the platforms are launching API’s with which businesses can connect and interact with customers using one or more of these chat apps, they become increasingly important for direct conversations with customers and clients.
‘Do one thing and do it well’
There was a time all app owners thought that cluttering an app with many features might leave consumers overwhelmed and confused. That vision seems to be outdated now that social messaging apps add payments functionalities and more. People will most likely spend even more time on chat apps as they roll out more functionalities on the platform. With adding payments to social messaging apps, commerce comes to these apps. And commerce means business.
Doing business via messaging apps is now easier than ever before. As each messaging app has its own strengths and weaknesses, a customer contact strategy which includes all available apps, will increase your reach and revenue. By communicating over all available apps, you can leave it up to your customer to contact you through his favourite platform, and you'll be able to respond quickly and correctly, with all relevant data in place.