WeChat is a social-centric Internet tool that has penetrated into every aspect of our lives and has a huge impact on society, economy, culture and politics. In term of economy, WeChat’s instant messaging, circle of friends, group chat, and voice and video chat have greatly aggregated digital economy users (Qiu, 2016). Enterprise WeChat, public platform and other functions have greatly helped enterprises and users to establish network cooperation and digital communication (Fu, 2018), thereby forming a digital economic relationship of collaborative sharing (Xu et al., 2015). In the social aspect, WeChat payment facilitates our lives and people use WeChat to exchange feelings and record their lives (Shafiq et al., 2017). Its social influence has further expanded with the improvement and perfection of its functions, such as in education (Fan, 2017). In politics, through the new means of WeChat, the political decision of superiors can be accurately conveyed, so that the policy does not deviate from the direction in the implementation process. In terms of culture, the functional design of WeChat is popularized at all levels and follows the traditional cultural concept. In addition, as a cultural carrier, WeChat also promotes the transmission and dissemination of excellent traditional culture. This article describes the history of WeChat, its business model, its position in the social ecology as well as its role in transforming our use of the internet.
Picture showing log in WeChat app
Image: n.d., Image, All rights reserved
What is WeChat?
WeChat is a free application produced by Tencent from 2011 and provides an instant messaging service for smart device users. It supports sending text, photo, video and voice messages via mobile internet in the form of single chat or group chat. Users can find nearby people according to the geographical location by the function of “People Nearby”, and can also make friends with strangers by the function of “drift bottle” and “shake”; The WeChat public platform provides a media platform for individuals, groups and institutions to conduct information dissemination activities for the general public (Gan, 2017).
Picture of WeChat preface
Image: gizmomaniacs.com, Mitra, All rights reserved
The historical view of WeChat (beginning and development)
In October 2010, the product team of Tencent Guangzhou R&D Center began planning and developing an application for mobile terminal instant messaging service – WeChat. Then, it officially met with mobile phone users on January 21, 2011. After many updates, WeChat has expanded its functions and its product form has matured. Given the history of the development of WeChat, it can be revealed that its development path extends to social networks from pure mobile instant messaging (Qiu et al., 2016). With the opening of the WeChat public platform, WeChat shows more of the characteristics of the media route. With the more abundant WeChat client-based commercialization service function, the trend of WeChat expansion to the mobile Internet platform is increasingly obvious.
Picture of WeChat growth
Image: techinasia.com, Millward, All rights reserved
Before the opening of the WeChat public platform, its core function is “instant messaging”, which can carry out peer-to-peer information transmission. Its basic function is equivalent to traditional SMS and MMS, but the information is no longer transmitted via the mobile communication network. Users can use WeChat for information reception and transmission just with the mobile Internet service (Peng et al., 2016). The special feature of WeChat as an instant messaging tool is that the form of information symbols is more diversified and presents multimedia characteristics. WeChat 1.0 can only send text and picture information, while WeChat 2.0 introduced the function of voice intercom which is one of the most attractive features and also the pillar function. WeChat 2.5 can realize the transmission of video information, while the WeChat 4.2 directly realizes the video call of the mobile terminal.
WeChat 2.5 and 3.0 mainly introduced social interaction elements, which enable WeChat to have attribute of social tool. WeChat 2.5 added the function of “View nearby people”, so that WeChat users can easily find people who are using WeChat nearby. WeChat 3.0 has access to the functions of “shake” and “drift bottle”. These new features are not available in the previous instant messaging tools, making WeChat seem novel, unique and attractive (Qiu et al., 2015). As far as the information dissemination route is concerned, WeChat is a complete communication tool in the point-to-point information transmission, while its breakthrough significance is to transform the information transmission channel to the mobile internet from the original mobile communication network.
Picture of WeChat 5.3
Image: wechat.com, WeChat, All rights reserved
The opening of the WeChat public platform is a key step in the transition of WeChat to the media platform. The promotion of WeChat public platform adopts a celebrity strategy, inviting movie stars and media brands to enter the platform. After the WeChat user successfully adds the celebrity WeChat account, they can receive the information pushed by the public platform from time to time (Huang et al., 2016). This model has a media-based subscription nature and any individual or organization can conduct information dissemination activities for the general public once a WeChat public platform account is available. Based on the media attributes of WeChat, WeChat distinguishes the characteristics of mass media and traditional e-commerce with these innovative functions.
Analysis of its ownership and business model
Picture of WeChat marketing model
Image: michaelsoft.com, MichaelSoft, All rights reserved
The WeChat is owned by Tencent and its main business model is the introduction of businesses to achieve win-win cooperation. The development of WeChat is inseparable from its free promotion. Users have been able to find out and download it on major mobile phone platforms such as Apple IOS, Android and Windows for free. At the same time, its low traffic cost saves users a large amount of call charges. After winning the market trust, it subsequently opened the WeChat payment function (Pun, 2015). When customers are familiar with the speed and convenience brought by WeChat, many merchants compete to join it. For example, the fast payment function in WeChat not only attracts big customers such as “Vipshop”, “Popular Review”, etc., but more importantly, it has united many small and micro enterprises, and even individual merchants and self-employed households. On the other hand, WeChat can use precipitation funds for investment, and the occupancy fee of large merchants also constitutes a large amount of income.
Position in the social ecology
At the WeChat Partner Conference held on December 21st 2017, the official release of the latest data said that WeChat already has 1.5 million registered companies and 30 million active users, such as Jingdong and Meituan. Enterprise WeChat officially launched in April 2016 and is the main platform to cooperate with other businesses. It helps enterprises connect customers, partners and supply chains to with WeChat, and thus jointly creating an open and prosperous enterprise WeChat ecosystem (Wang et al., 2015). WeChat also launches the “Enterprise WeChat Partner Academy” to help partners familiarize themselves with the policies of Enterprise WeChat on service providers.
The main competitors of WeChat are Mi Chat, Weibo and Momo. Mi Chat is a voice communication tool produced by Xiaomi Technology. Unlike WeChat, there are no related apps that can import users into Mi Chat. The user base of Mi Chat is zero, so the number of users basically depends on how many people use the Xiaomi phone. Once the Xiaomi phone is replaced, the Mi Chat users may disappear. Weibo is a social information network produced by Sina, but there is more inferior and scattered information, which leads to the acceleration of the attenuation of important information values (Gan and Wang, 2015). At the same time, the introduction of advertising will inevitably cause harassment to users. Momo has accumulated thousands of users with the label of “Strange Communication”, but the profit level of the stranger market has been questioned by the industry, and now Momo does not have an opportunity that is really suitable for its own development.
Suppliers and users
As instant messaging software for personal application, WeChat adopts independent research and development methods to obtain more controllability, so WeChat have no external suppliers. The users of WeChat are mainly divided into three parts, ordinary users, enterprise users and the government (WeChat, 2014). Ordinary users use WeChat as an instant messaging tool and anyone can become ordinary users of WeChat. Enterprises use WeChat’s good marketing and publicity to create a corporate public number, which is a good way to promote their own corporate brand. WeChat fans can also interact with the company to improve corporate visibility and corporate recognition. Government agencies can apply for a public number to push important information to the public daily. There is also the possibility of legal education, and citizens can anonymously report violations on the report line in the form of videos, pictures, texts and other information.
Picture of age profile of WeChat users – global
Image: thewebmate.com, Mongardi, All rights reserved
Role in transforming our use of the internet
Impact on business model
In the digital age of technological innovation, WeChat payment’s business capabilities lead the “unmanned” industry trend. Through the integration of technology digitalization of WeChat payment, WeChat creates diversified solutions for all walks of life, helping a large number of partners to benefit from the ecology. Through the continuous deep cultivation of commercial capabilities, WeChat payment penetrates into different payment scenarios, not only helping service providers to build their own capabilities, but also letting self-service, unmanned service become the trend of traditional industry transformation (Lyu et al., 2016). One of WeChat’s goals is to reduce people’s cost of use which is a major trend in the transformation of traditional industries, so it hopes to build self-service scanning code purchasing, one-stop fast matching and other services through integrated payment, small programs, membership, card vouchers, etc., and support partners in terms of products, traffic, data, marketing, etc., thus achieving unmanned retail.
In addition to retail, services in the fields of catering, travel, campus and urban are also focus for WeChat. WeChat completed the transformation of catering business operations and service processes; created one-stop smart travel by connecting people, cars and services; made effort in intelligent transformation of cardless campus, expanded urban service scenarios and portals; deepened support to the cooperation of overseas partners (Lien et al., 2017). Its ultimate goal is to enhance the user experience through and help partners improve production management efficiency. The change in payment method must be developed in this direction, that is, to make payment more convenient and easier. The core of all products of WeChat is to make the user experience better, so WeChat adheres to the ecological open and technology transformation. The WeChat team had brought many innovations to various industry players in 2017, and it hopes to continue to work with partners in various industries in 2018 to focus on the future of science and technology, thus building a more complete intelligent ecosystem.
Impact on regulatory processes
The emergence of WeChat has provided a new platform for government information disclosure and citizen politics. Government WeChat refers to the subscription number or service number registered by the party and government organs on WeChat public platform. It is used to publish government information, carry out interaction between the government and the public. Some Government WeChat open custom menus and database functions and users can query government information through mobile phones (Deng et al., 2017). The opening of the Government WeChat makes it easier and faster for citizens to obtain government information, and also makes the communication between citizens and the government smoother. According to the news released by Tencent on January 18, 2016, China’s Government WeChat has exceeded 100,000, and WeChat in mobile terminals has become the new normal of government and people’s livelihood (Hou et al., 2017). The application of mobile Internet to government affairs service is not simply to put government affairs information on the network, but to make full use of WeChat platform for deep integration with big data. Therefore, the opening of government affairs through WeChat is also the test in response to the government’s thinking transformation ability, problem solving speed and the management ability by the use of social media. The interactivity and intimacy of the Government WeChat can show the government’s citizen-oriented management philosophy.
As instant messaging software that integrates multiple functions, the development of WeChat is the trend of the times; as a product of the mobile Internet, WeChat reflects many technological values of the mobile Internet; and as a new thing, WeChat has brought too many surprise changes to the society. The social functions played by WeChat in the fields of communication, politics, culture and economy are obvious and are being used frequently by many users. At present, the development of various functions of WeChat is still in the stage of exploration and various entities can further explore the functions of WeChat through positive innovation and bold reforms, thus giving full play to its positive role as a communication tool of the new era.
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