Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Want to know where the future of social is heading? Look to China

I read a fascinating piece this morning about WeChat* by a product engineer at Medium called Katie Zhu.

Last week she had been on a panel discussion about WeChat's Product Philosophy and Innovation.

The panel included key and founding members of the WeChat product and engineering teams who shared their product insights and data outside of China for the first time.

In a comprehensive write up of the event Katie describes the impact WeChat has had since its inception four years ago.

From a standing start it now has 600m active monthly users and has grown from a chat and messaging app into China’s most impactful and engaged platform for communication, services and payments.

Katie describes how Stephen Wang, a senior PM at WeChat discussed the philosophy of “WeChat Lifestyle” and how they’ve built features to address everyday problems for users. She quotes him as saying:

"We measure growth not by number of users or chat messages, but by how deeply our product is engaged in every aspect of a user’s lifestyle.”

To illustrate this “lifestyle” concept, Wang walked through a typical Chinese user’s day with WeChat and the multiple touchpoints in their daily lives.

Adding: “At every time throughout the day, there is a touchpoint between WeChat and your normal life.”

One element that stood out for me was the concept of lucky money.

Key seasonal events like Chinese New Year typically attract lots of people gifting one another little red envelopes.

[According to Wikipedia, in Chinese and other Asian societies, a red envelope, red packet or hongbao is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions such as weddings, the birth of a baby or graduation.]

The red colour of the envelope symbolises good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits. 

Anyway, according to Katie, WeChat digitised this tradition and brought it into their app to 'create a fun, delightful experience of person to person payments'.

She then explained how it works:

'You as a sender select an amount you want to send, total. Then you choose a group of recipients. To make this “fun” and “lucky,” it works like this: they randomly divide up this sum among the people you want to send it to, so one person will get a larger sum than the others. (You can see who “won” each Lucky Money round.)'

Wang is quoted saying:

“We want to make sending money as easy as chat. How do you turn payments into a form of expression?”

The point being here that as we (or should I say I) pontificate on our blogs here in the West about the imminent departure of millennials from Facebook, or the potential for Twitter to monetise (or not) its user base, or whether Snapchat should enable more branded content, there is a whole world out there that is leading the way.

Techcrunch made the point yesterday, whilst reporting Tencent's latest financial results (WeChat's owner).

It noted one of the standout figures wasn’t a financial stat, it was that its messaging services, which obviously include WeChat,  now has 200 million users’ credit cards bound to it, and is one of the services that is inspiring Facebook’s plans for its Messenger business.

Imagine a future world where your interactions with Facebook, Twitter, ebay, Amazon, Apple Pay/PayPal, Messenger, What's App, your favourite games, your fitness app, Skype, text, and emoji stickers are all in the same seamless environment from the minute you wake to the minute you drop off.

Well, as my old boss Nick used to say, it looks like someone got to the future faster than you did.

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*According to Wikipedia WeChat provides text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast (one-to-many) messaging, video conferencing, video games, sharing of photographs and videos, and location sharing.

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