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Prepared by Sheila Feng, Tony Liu, Amy Sun, Cynthia Yip, Ricardo Zhang
Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University

WeChat is a cross-platform instant messaging service developed by Tencent in China and has become one of the largest messaging apps by monthly active users. As of May 2016, WeChat has over a billion registered accounts with 700 million active users. [1] Among them, more than 70 million of active users are outside of China (as of December 2015). [2]


About Tencent

Tencent was founded in November 1998 by Ma Huateng, Zhang Zhidong, Xu Chenye, Chen Yidan and Zeng Liqing. The major founder, Ma, is currently the chairman and CEO of Tencent. He was ranked by Time as the world's most influential people in 2007 and 2014[3], as well as the 30th richest person in the world by the Forbes in 2016. [4]

Tencent Holdings Limited is a Chinese investment holding company with subsidiaries providing media, entertainment, Internet and mobile phone value-added services and operate online advertising services in China. Tencent becomes one of the largest Internet companies in the world (ranked 4th by revenue)[5]. Its services include social networking, web portals, e-commerce, and multiplayer online games. Tencent holds 15% stake of JD.com, one of the largest B2C online retailers in China. It also operates the well-known instant messenger Tencent QQ and one of the largest web portals, QQ.com. Mobile chat service WeChat has helped Tencent to expand into smartphone services. [6]

About WeChat

Platforms Supported

Date Development Image
2011 iOS,Android,Symbian
2012 WindowsPhone,BlackBerry
2014 Mac
2015 Windows

Main Features Timeline

Version Date Development Image
1.0 Beta Series 2011.1 Instant Messaging
Simple Sticker
Instant Messaging and Icon
2.0 Series 2011.5 Voice Message
People Nearby(LBS)
Phone Number Registration
People Nearby
3.0 Series 2011.10 Shake
Custom Memes
4.0 Series 2012.4 Moments
Video Chat
Public Platform
Scan QR Code
5.0 Series 2013.8 WePay
Mobile Top-up
Lifestyle Features
Subscription and Service Accounts
6.0 Series 2014.9 Cards&Offers
Short Video
Red Packet
Moments Ads
Enterprise Accounts
Red Packets

Differences between Weixin and WeChat

Although Weixin and WeChat are essentially the same product with mostly identical functions, there are some differences between them that particularly affect oversea businesses connecting to the Chinese citizens. The system distinguishes between these accounts through the phone number one uses to register for the service the first time. If the user first registered for the account using a Mainland China number, the user is automatically registered in Weixin. However, even if the user paired the account with a non-mainland China number later, such as while travelling or moving to other countries, the account still remains in Weixin’s system. [7]

Comparison of Weixin and WeChat Accounts


Weixin is the Chinese version of WeChat. Content on this platform is hosted on servers in China. Users do not have access to WeChat Official Accounts registered outside of China. As a result, for a business wishing to open an Official Account in Weixin that users in China have access to, they need to have a valid Chinese ID, Chinese mobile phone number, Chinese Business License and Chinese Organization Code to open one. [8] In addition, certain functions are first introduced in the Chinese market through Weixin before rolling out to its international version. For instance, the popular Weixin function, Wallet, was first introduced in Mainland China in 2013 [9]. This function is not available in the international version until Tecent’s recent decision of expanding it to Hong Kong and South Africa in early 2016. [10]


WeChat is designed for the international market. According to an interview with Poshu Yueng, vice president of the international business group at Tencent, Weixin and WeChat are “operated on separate infrastructures and supported by different teams”. [11] As such the official account systems for Weixin and WeChat are completely separate. As a result, users of WeChat have access to both Chinese and non-Chinese Official Accounts. [12] This decision of referring to the same app by different names seems to be somewhat politically influenced to avoid the negative effect of censorship in Mainland China on its global expansion.

WeChat's Impact on the Chinese Society

What is the impact of WeChat and its applications on the Chinese Society?

China has an extremely closed market for technological development. Since China has a huge population base by itself, its technological developments are often tailored for the Chinese demographic only. Thus, despite the popularity of globalization, the Chinese civilization has always been different than the rest of the world. One perfect example of such innovation is TenCent’s social platform WeChat. Since the introduction of WeChat, the Chinese population has been dramatically influenced by the software over the last few years. However, due to China’s relatively closed technological platform, little is known about WeChat in the western society. While there are some other Asian countries starting to adopt WeChat, it remains most impactful in the Chinese society.

The statistics in this section are obtained from the “2016 WeChat Impact Report”[1] conducted by TenCent Penguin Intelligence and China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT). The Survey consist of data up to March 2016, which consists of 40443 online participants, 1101 phone participants, 1017 WeChat official account operators, and 806 enterprise account operators.

About Current WeChat Users

Currently, WeChat has over 700 million monthly active users globally. Over 90% of people that owns a smartphone in China has WeChat installed on their phone. As WeChat is not only a messaging application but is also a social platform, 94% of those users log in WeChat daily. In addition, more than half of WeChat users use WeChat for more than one hour daily. More interesting facts about WeChat users will be discussed in the following section that addresses WeChat’s impact on social media, paying system, media coverage, life services, and businesses.

WeChat’s impact on social media

Thing people do on WeChat

WeChat’s main function is to provide users a platform to communicate. It is proven that WeChat can successfully expand users' connection. In 2015, 28% of users have more than 200 friends on WeChat, which is more than double than the 12.2% in 2014. It is reported that 57.3% of WeChat users has the experience of meeting new friends or re-establishing relationship with old friends through WeChat. WeChat can therefore be viewed as Facebook Chat, WhatsApp, or Line with its own distinction in certain areas.

Main usages of WeChat?

However, the most common usage of WeChat is browsing and posting on Moments, while sharing information through private chat is closely behind that. Moments is where users post pictures, texts, short videos, news, and emojis on their page where their friends can see, like, and comment. This function is more like Instagram or Snapchat. It is also reported that 61.4% of users will check their Moments whenever they open WeChat. Most people will check their friend’s lifestyle post, and then they will read the comments on their posts, and finally a small portion of users will browse through the articles shared by their friends. Users in WeChat moments are most likely to:

  1. Like friends’ content
  2. Leave comments on friends’ content
  3. Post content
  4. Share content

And the content they enjoy most are ranked:

  1. Pictures
  2. Texts
  3. Short Videos
  4. Articles

Since people enjoy pictures and texts the most in their WeChat moments, companies particularly like to use this tactic to attract users' attention in their marketing campaigns.

WeChat Payment

WeChat payment (WePay) was first introduced in 2013. However, users were either unfamiliar with this new function or were reluctant to bind their bank cards to WeChat due to security issues at the time. Overall the feature was not being emphasized too much back in 2013. However, WeChat successfully reinforced its payment system by introducing the function of red pockets in the 2015 Chinese New Year. The night of 2015’s Chinese New Year alone has 200 million bank cards linked, and approximately $500 million RMB worth of lucky money distributed. Since then, users begin to send money through WeChat to friends and relatives. Additionally, chat groups consist up to 500 people were created to exchange red pockets for fun. With this red pocket feature users began to link bank cards and became accustomed to sending money through WeChat.

As of March 2016, the most popular payment features used are:

  1. Digital Red envelope money (84.7%)
  2. Making Payments (58.1%)
  3. Money Transfer to contacts (56.9%)
  4. Receivable (33.1%)
  5. WeChat credit Card (20%)
  6. Pay off credit card (13.6%)

Not only is the number of people using WePay constantly increasing, the amount of the money being transferred is also growing. In 2016, 67% of users spend over $100 RMB per month, which is more than doubled from the year before. In addition, 34% of users spend over $500 RMB per month, which is six times more than the previous year’s 5%. Users choose to use WeChat payment because it is easy to use, cashless, and occasionally offers discounts.

So, which method of payment does customers prefer?

WeChat Payment = 16.3%
Ether way = 37.3%
Cash/Credit Card = 46.4%

According to the survey on WeChat users, over 53.6% of customers indicate that they would consider paying with WeChat when given the option. This shows that WeChat payment has penetrated the market through the popularity of red envelope. WePay creates an easier way for its users to pay and develops business opportunities for small businesses. More physically and online stores are now adapting WeChat’s payment system as the popularity of mobile payment increases.

WeChat in Media Coverage

Where users obtain news

In this digital economy age, people depend much on their phones, laptops, and specifically the Internet. In China, social media is ranked as the second largest channel for news. In this case, WeChat shares news content through official accounts. If the users like the contents posted by an official account, they can comment on the post or share it with their friends.

There are two main reasons why people follow official accounts. The first one is to acquire information and news, and the second reason is to follow a business to receive promotional information. There are three top reasons why people share and repost contents on their Moments. They usually repost contents that they find valuable, interesting, or emotionally touching.

WeChat Life Services

WeChat Life Service

Life services is a function that connects all kinds of services in one place for WeChat users. Some examples of the features provided by WeChat’s life services include:

  • Quick pay
  • Transfer money
  • Mobile top up
  • Wealth
  • Order taxi
  • Utilities bills
  • City services
  • Movie tickets
  • Airplane tickets
  • Charity donations

It is reported that over 60% of WeChat users have used the Life Services. Among these users, 15% of them have donated through WeChat Charity.

What do people use Life Services for?

The most common usages of Life Services are Mobile Top Up (paying phone bills), buying movie tickets, and buying food and other entertainments. The reason of having phone bills as a separate category then the normal utility payment is that the mobile services are not charged monthly in China. Instead, they are prepaid. Therefore, users can pay whenever they use up all their data or minutes. Having this Mobile Top Up service is extremely useful since sometimes multiple payments in a short period are needed for this type of mobile service.

Other services in Life Services are also expanding as more users begin to use them. For example, in WeChat Sport, “WeRun” helps users to record their footstep data and ranks it among all your friends. Some feedbacks of this feature include:

  1. Convenient method to obtain exercise data
  2. Increase interactions with friends
  3. Increase exercise frequency
  4. Make friends

Similarly, the feature WeChat read offers users s short and interesting read. It is reported that WeChat Read is a good read for spare time, creates content for users to share on Moments, and increases people’s reading time.

Overall, WeChat has transformed from a social platform to a platform that provides services that benefit its users’ lifestyles.

WeChat on Corporates and Businesses

There are two types of Official Accounts that WeChat offers. The first one is the Business Accounts and the other is the Service Accounts. 73% of Official Accounts are registered through a business entity while the remaining 27% are service accounts.

Official Accounts

Official accounts are generally used for information sharing. For example, information for new products, marketing campaigns, consulting services, e-commerce platform, ordering services, and much more are part of the business operations and customer interaction.

Business & Enterprise Accounts

Business Accounts are used both internally and externally. It enables companies to share information among its employees for its business operation. It also enables companies to share its product or promotional information through WeChat to its customers or followers. Manufacturing, IT, and Communication, and Services industries are ranked highest in the industry distribution of enterprise accounts. The Entertainment industry is ranked lowest with only 3.5% because they would rather use a service account that focuses more on providing information to users.

Some main usage and outcome of WeChat Enterprise Accounts are:

  • Increase internal management efficiency
  • System management/improvement of IT technology
  • Lower communication cost
  • Simplify business process
  • Enhance corporation efficiency
  • Enhance service efficiency

Service Accounts

Service accounts are the type of official accounts that mainly focus on information sharing and providing services to its customers. A common type of service accounts is accounts for food delivery. Many companies create service accounts where customers can open a page in WeChat, pick the restaurant they want to order from, order with a full menu inside the page, and pay with WeChat Payment. The whole process is done through a service account. All the information is available on the page and thus makes ordering as easy as a few taps on the phone.

Although it is convenient and useful, there is a price for all these benefits. WeChat is free to download and use, however, due to the high WeChat usage, $15.3 Billion USD worth of mobile data was consumed by the Chinese WeChat users in 2013. This is equivalent to 4.24% of all mobile data consumed in China. 54% of WeChat users report an increase in mobile consumption after using WeChat. 40% of those users report an increase of 30% or more. However, with mobile data becoming a necessity today, WeChat is definitely a convenient tool to have on your phone. It is a place to socialize, a platform for entrepreneurs, and a channel for businesses and organizations.

WeChat's Impact on the Industry

Comparisons between WeChat, WhatsApp and LINE

Wechat, WhatsApp and LINE are the three most popular messaging applications competing in the same industry. Wechat is ranked as the NO.1 instant messaging app in China, WhatsApp is the NO.1 instant messaging apps in the U.S.[2], and LINE was proved to be the No.1 social media in Japan and is hugely popular in East Asia with Explosive expansion.[3]


WeChat, WhatsApp and LINE are free to download and are accessible through IOS, Android and Web. Moreover, users on all platforms can share contents in the form of text, audio, video and files from Word, Excel and PDFs for free.[4]



WeChat is available for more systems. Apart from ios, Android and Window that are offered by WhatsApp and LINE, WeChat also supports blackberry and Symbian[5].


WhatsApp supports more 33 languages, which is more than WeChat’s 21 languages and LINE’s 18 languages.[6]


Both WeChat and LINE offer in-app stickers for users to use and purchase. LINE has 2.6 million stickers available for using as of March 2016. WeChat Users can even create and use their customized memes to express their feelings. In contrast, there are no in-app stickers available for users to purchase and use in WhatsAapp.[7]

Methods to add contacts

WeChat offers multiple ways for users to add contacts. This includes sending an friend request in text, scanning a user’s QR code, adding official accounts and using "Friends Radar" to search for users nearby. WhatsApp users do not need to create usernames to add friends since its contacts are synced and recommended automatically from phone's contacts lists. LINE is more likely a combination of both WeChat and WhatsApp in adding contacts feature since a QR reader is available for LINE users to add contacts and its contacts are synced automatically from users’s phone contacts lists as well.[8]

Other features

WeChat is more than just a messaging app. It has more features than WhatsApp does. For example, users can share photos, short videos, music songs and what they thought in their "Moments" for their friends to view, which is a similar function to Facebook's “Timeline”. LINE has this similar function as well. Moreover, WeChat also offers a platform for users not only to play various games and complete fitness challenges together within the app, but also to shop and complete electronic payments on mobile that WhatsApp does offer currently.[9]

E-commerce Enabled Mobile Payments

In western countries, online payments are completed through the use of credit cards. In China, both offline and online payments are primarily completed through mobile payment. There are four reasons for the exponential growth in popularity of mobile payment in China. First of all, the E-commerce industry continues to boom in China. Mobile shopping made up 62.9% of China's mobile online market, with mobile advertising (20.1%) and mobile gaming (12.4%) followed behind[10]. Secondly, there are 1.3 billion mobile users in China. Therefore, the market is large enough to develop mobile payment. Thirdly, mobile payments is very convenient as it eliminates the needs for consumers to enter their card information when making online purchases. For example, payments can be completed simply by one finger click within the mobile wallets or payments apps. Finally, mobile payments are also highly secured. This reduces the risk of credit card theft when they choose offline shopping. Based on these reasons, China became the No.1 mobile payment market in the world with around 250 billion mobile payment transactions in 2015 only.[11]

Comparison between WeChat Pay and Alipay

There are two technology giants in the current mobile payment market based on Chinese market research agency analysys: Alipay with 71.2% market share and WeChat payment with 15.9% market share.[12]


Alipay is the biggest player in the chinese mobile payments market with 10 years’ mobile paymets experience that provides cross-border transaction with 80 million transactions each day. Its revenues are generated mainly through mobile commerce through its partnership with esteemed merchants worldwide. It focuses on international transactions such as providing international eCommerce mechants a platform to sell goods and services to Chinese consumers directly with mutiple currencies avaiable: RMB, U.S. dollars, British pounds, and euros. This is helpful to its revenue growth since $1000 setup fee are charged by Alipay if foreign compayies wants to use its platform. Moreover, there is also a trasaction fee ranging from 0.7% to 1.2% of sales fer annume with minimum $5000.[13]

WeChat payment

WeChat payment is the second largest online payment platform with 5 years experiences under WeChat. It is the major threat to Alipay with its fast growth. It has been in partnership with Jingdong, a large ecommerce vendor in China, that Tencent takes 15% stake[14]. Moreover, Tencent almost doubled its mobile payments share in the market with seven times more active users from 2014 to 2015. Wechat has a different business model when compared to Alibaba. First of all, it allows businesses to provide services within the application based on its messaging feature. Secondly, WeChat payment has the App-within-an-app functionality with 10 million third party apps that allows users to perform tasks such as hail taxi, groceries ordering, food delivery, money transfer to other users. In particular, sending red envelopes and exchange money in electronic version is the most popular function to use WeChat payment. Thirdly, it places a block on all Alibaba-related apps and services to prevent the use Alipay on its own platform. Lastly, it offers more functionalities than Alipay have through WeChat groups. For example, debit/credit cards, QR code payment, WeChat public account payment, and mobile app payment are four diiferent payment options offered by WeChat payment for users to choose when they shop though mobiles.[15]

Competitive Advantages over ApplePay

Wechat also has some competitive advantages over ApplePay in the following three areas. WeChat can be downloaded on Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Symbian, Windows, and web. Moreover, it has the weight of 650 million users behind it. Furthermore, WeChat are familiar with the mobile first consumers with its experience in China. These customers mostly access the internet through their mobile devices. For instance, 74% of people in South Africa access the internet most often via smartphone than computer or tablet, which is much higher than the 26% in USA[16]. Thus, the fact that WeChat is a mobile only application provides WeChat more advantage over other applications in the Asian and African market.

International Expansion of WeChat Payment

WeChat services were promoted and advertised through various social medias in western countries such as Facebook pages, Youtube, Region-specific websites and Chatterbox to prepare for the luanch. In palces outside of China with large Chinese speaking communities such as Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, WeChat is gaining more popularity and is regarded as an outstanding investing opportunity[17]. Hong Kong and South Africa are the first two international regions that can fully access the WeChat wallet capabilities in early 2016. The same functionalities of WeChat Payment is introduced in Hong Kong in early 2016. Users can not only send and receive money in Hong Kong currency, but can also receive amounts in RMB. However, there are only a limited number of WeChat Payment services available for WeChat accounts in Hong Kong and South Africa at the moment. For example, only ticket booking, transport-purchasing services, travel products purchasing available to them within the app.[18]

Censorship and Surveillance

As mentioned previously, Weixin and WeChat are separate entities that operate on separate infrastructures and are supported by different teams. However, how people perceive Weixin is going to affect how people perceive its international version, WeChat. In particular, the censorship and surveillance of contents on Weixin by the Government of China is especially concerning for users. As a result, censorship on Weixin has strong implications on Tencent's WeChat global expansion plan.

Censorship on Weixin

Since contents on Weixin is hosted on servers in China, Weixin censors content from private chats, moments as well as Public Accounts. According to China’s regulatory system, all Chinese Internet companies are held responsible for the sensitive content they host. Thus, they tend to establish an entire department for surveillance and censorship of their platforms' users to control the dissemination of such content. [19] In August 2014, the State Internet Information Office (SIIO) issued a set of regulations on mobile instant messaging services to better manage these hugely popular applications. [20] As a result, Tencent censors content on Weixin in accordance to Chinese law.

Censorship on Weixin Private Chat

Censorship of Private Chats

Weixin mainly utilizes keyword filtering for censoring private chats. In the past, when users send out messages containing restricted words, they will receive an error message saying that “The message you sent contains restricted words. Please check it again”. [21] For example, users of Weixin were banned from mentioning anything about the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend in 2013. [22] The journalists of Southern Weekend went on strike to protest on the Propaganda Department of Guangdong Province's heavy censorship on their news articles. [23] The paper also reveals that 1,034 of their stories were censored in 2012 alone. [24] Another example of censorship happened in 2013 when a Tibetan woman got arrested by the Chinese authorities for expressing anti-Chinese sentiments over WeChat and storing prohibited photos of Dalai Lama on her mobile phone [25]. During the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong in 2014, some reported that some comments about the Hong Kong protests shared through private small groups were mysteriously deleted. [26] A recently updated report by the Citizen Lab reveals that keyword filtering in Weixin is no longer transparent [27]. Although these messages containing sensitive words are never delivered to the receiver, users are no longer being notified of the error. [28]

Censorship of Moments

Apart from censoring the private chats through keyword restrictions, Weixin also restricts the sharing of content and websites on Moments. For example, photos of the Occupy Central movement posted by Hong Kong users to their personal Moments are not viewable by mainland Weixin users. [29] Furthermore, Tencent announced on December 12, 2014 that according to "related regulations", domains of the web pages that want to get shared in Weixin Moments need to get an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license by the end of the year to avoid being restricted by Weixin. [30] ICP license is a permit issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology that allows one to host the website on a mainland Chinese server. [31] This restriction again allows the Chinese government a greater power in controlling the contents being circulated on Weixin's moment.

Censorship on Public Accounts

Distribution of blocked Keywords in Weixin's Public Account Platform

The increasing popularity of public accounts calls for the need for regulation because of their ability to reach a larger number of users than private chats or moment. In a study conducted by the University of Toronto on censorship on Weixin's public account platform, researchers examines 36,000 posts from 10,254 unique public accounts that have been shared publicly on Weixin over June 2014 and March 2015. [32] During this period, 1.48 percent of the official user accounts it followed were suspended, and 1.55 percent of the posts made by active accounts were censored by the system. Also, 2.44 percent of posts were self-censored, which as posts that were published and later deleted by the users themselves. Although these statistics does not reflect the true censorship rate for Weixin's public accounts platform because the sample taken is non-random, the researchers find that Weixin does appear to be less censored than other researchers have observed on Weibo.

Similar to censorship on private chats, Tencent also censors public account posts using keywords. Through a close examination of these censored posts, the researchers find that many sensitive keywords are found in a greater percentage of censored posts than normal posts. For example, the disgraced politician Bo Xilai (薄熙来) appears in only 0.2% of normal posts, but is found in 3.91% of censored posts. Another insight of the report worth mentioning is that keywords related to corruption (贪官, 贪污, 贪腐, 腐败, 公款) make up five of the list of the top 50 most sensitive keywords.

Another kind of posts that are censored is posts that contain rumors, misinformation, or some form of speculative commentary. Some examples of these posts include the post of Africans who have illegally immigrated to Guangzhou and are marrying Chinese women, or the post of more than 100 reincarnated people have been found in Hunan, or the claim that Jack Ma's son has died. The former one is clearly inflammatory, while the others do not appear to be destabilizing or harmful. This kind of censorship aligned with the recent efforts of the SIIO to regulate the dissemination or rumor and political news as stated in the August 2014 SIIO regulations on instant messaging tools. [33] In particular, article 7 states that only public accounts opened by news agencies are authorized to publish current political news.

In addition, the Chinese government also actively seeks other ways to better regulate social media platforms like Weixin. For instance, the Zhaoqing government in Guangdong announced that Weixin public accounts held by individuals or organizations must be registered with the police in August 2014. Furthermore, these users are also forbidden to include content from any independent news reports or sharing information carried by overseas media. [34] Moreover, Weixin started real-name verification for its Public Accounts in 2013. [35] The regulation on instant messaging tools issued in 2014 is the first formal regulation requiring Weixin Public Account users to register for the service with their real-name. [36] These measures further help to ensure the credibility of these posts.

Censorship on WeChat

According to Tencent, Weixin and WeChat are two deprecated entities. [37] Content hosted on the international version is not subjected to any rules and regulations imposed by the Chinese government. However, an incident indicates that WeChat is also being censored. WeChat users find that during the incident of Southern Daily in 2013, WeChat users are also restricted from sending messages containing Southern Weekend. [38] They get a similar error message as users of Weixin gets. Tencent later issued a statement claiming that this is an error caused by “a technical glitch” and that “immediate actions have been taken to rectify it”. [39]

Censorship on Other Instant Messaging and Social Media Applications

In August 2013, the Royal Thai Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division announced its plan to surveil LINE conversations to “ensure the rule of law, order and national security”. [40] However, LINE’s representatives responded that such monitoring would only be permitted with a Japanese court order, stating, “We have not received an official request from the Thai government. However, the company ensures that its priority is on protecting its users’ privacy. [41] Recently, Facebook is also found to be censoring a few Palestinian journalists by suspending their accounts without warning or explanation. This action raises disputes on the role of these social media platforms. [42] It also raises questions of whether Facebook is filtering certain types of content out as part of an agreement with a foreign government, without making that clear to users.

Impact on WeChat's Global Expansion Plan

Unlike other Chinese Internet applications such as Baidu that mainly operates in Mainland China, Tencent has been aggressively growing its WeChat user base outside of China. Yet, the presence of censorship and surveillance on Weixin complicates this expansion plan, as users might be skeptical about Tencent’s promise of never letting the Chinese government interfere with the operation of WeChat. The followings are some advantages and disadvantages with censorship and surveillance.


Although most people are not comfortable with censorship and surveillance, there are some advantages of it. In particular, the censorship of public account posts of rumor and false information can help the company to control any spread of the rumor. The goal of the government and Tencent of impugning the veracity of independent and unapproved media sources can, in turn, be good for the reputation and reliability of WeChat. This can therefore potentially attract more users.


Internet users in the west tend to be less comfortable and tolerant with government censorship and surveillance, especially after the Snowden incident. Although Tencent is not currently censoring the content on its international platform, WeChat, the previous incident in 2013 of WeChat users experiencing censorship causes skepticism about Tencent’s statement. Furthermore, even if keyword filtering in the chat feature is not currently active, this incident shows that Tencent already possesses the capability to implement censorship on its international platform. [43] Therefore, it would be quite easy for Tencent to implement control over the content on its international platform if it is required by the Chinese government one day. This makes it even more difficult for Tencent to convince its WeChat users that the Chinese government will never touch this version of WeChat.

In addition, this can cause disputes among Tencent, governments of foreign countries and the Chinese government. For instance, the US government will be concern about the possibility of the Chinese government holding information about their citizens. [44] This problem can be mitigated to a certain extent by having servers outside of China, which is what Tencent is doing currently. Yet, although this might make WeChat more attractive to international users, it can potentially cause tension between Tencent and the Chinese government. It is unclear whether the Chinese government will always accept the fact that some data owned by this huge Chinese Internet Company hosted overseas.


Chat Privacy


TRUSTe, the global data privacy management company, certifies WeChat in 2013 for its commitment to consumer privacy. [45] Some of WeChat’s privacy measures include giving users the control of who joins their friends list, views their information and manages how others can find them online. For higher security and control, users have the option to activate two-way authentication to initiate a chat, opt in and out of location-based services (LBS) any time, and to block out undesirable contacts. [46] Furthermore, WeChat also securely encrypts the messages users sent and received between our servers and users’ device. This ensures that third parties cannot snoop on your messages as they are being delivered over the Internet. [47] Furthermore, Tencent states that the company does not permanently retain the content of any messages on our servers whether they are text, audio or rich media files such as photos, Sights or documents. Once all intended recipients have received your message, WeChat deletes the content of the message on our servers and therefore third parties including WeChat itself are unable to view the content of your message. [48]

Comparison to Other Applications

Most instant messaging applications now offer encryption for users to ensure that third party cannot access this private information. LINE also introduced its Letter Sealing feature in 2015 that encrypts messages on both the sender and receive side [49]. This function applies to one-on-one chat, group chat, as well as free calls. WhatsApp starts to offer users end-to-end encryption in 2016. [50] This ensures that only the user and the recipient can read what is sent. Facebook also recently introduce end-to-end encryption for its Facebook Messenger. [51] This opt-in feature allows users to encrypt their messages between the sender and receiver.

Mobile Payment

Personal Password

The biggest challenge for WeChat to convince users to use its wallet function is the security concern about online transactions. WeChat Pay offers the option for users to set pattern passwords for their transaction. It also allows users to create a personal password for verification during transactions. In addition, users can freeze their account when they are suspicious about the use of their account. Users can do it by phone, through their website or through WeChat’s official account. Furthermore, PICC insurance company, China’s largest risk insurance company, and covers all payments made through WeChat Pay in China. In the event that payments were made on your account that users did not authorize, it is completely possible for users to claim the amount back (figure). Apart from allowing users to protect their account through different measures, WeChat also uses suspicious behavior analysis to identify suspicious transactions. When a user clicks ‘confirm payment’ WeChat pay will compare the transaction to their previous payments behavior and also data on the payment [52].

WeChat in the Future

Although WeChat has achieved huge success over the years, it is necessary for the company to be innovative to maintain its competitiveness. With fierce competition in the industry, an analysis of the challenges WeChat faces now helps the company to identify possible opportunities for the growth of the company in the future.

Current Challenges

WeChat faces stiff competition from other social media networks that have already established a dominant position abroad. In particular, Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype have large user base in the European and American markets; and Line has its user base in Asian markets.

Although WeChat dominates the messaging application market in China, it struggles to gain market shares outside of China. Tencent as a Chinese-focused company has yet to acquire enough international experience for its global expansion. It does not have sufficient knowledge regarding local customer needs, culture, or legal environment, brand building, and communication methods. AppAnnie data from May 2016 confirms this list, with Bhutan, Macau, Malaysia and Laos being the only 4 areas having WeChat among their top 10 downloaded application list on iOS. Tencent has been very vocal about promoting its messaging applications in Africa, especially in South Africa. However, data suggests that performance is mostly disappointing. Analysis of Google trends in South Africa show that WhatsApp is a much popular messaging application in the area. [1]

Certain features of WeChat are still quite specific to the Chinese market. WeChat needs to create a broader ecosystem with local news agencies, telecom operators, companies, shops, e-commerce, and website when entering a different country. Also, the company should also increase the brand's presence in local stores to attract more users.

Can WeChat Challenge Facebook or WhatsApp in the Long Run

At least for now, WeChat is not making a dent into the monopoly of Whatsapp and Facebook messenger abroad. The question of whether WeChat can achieve this goal in the future can be clarified by listing WeChat's strength and weakness comparing to its competitors.


WeChat has powerful, all-rounded, and multiple functions. WeChat is a cross-platform communication tool that combines the popular features of Facebook and WhatsApp. People can chat with their friends like WhatsApp, and sharing the memorizing time in their life like Facebook. In addition to the most popular messaging and social networking functions, WeChat also positions itself as an all-purpose mobile service platform. Playing mobile games, hailing taxis and making online payments are some of the new functions available through recent acquisitions and development.[2]

WeChat has the potential to maintain a high-pace innovation. Last few years many have witnessed the rapid innovation of WeChat. As what has been stated in the section about WeChat, three major versions of WeChat came out on average every year, which is quite impressive. The ability to create, adapt, and update itself can ensure competitiveness in the industry.


Privacy issues will get in WeChat's way if it is not being handled properly. As what have been stated in the section of Censorship and Surveillance, Tencent has the ability to censor chat contents of WeChat. This concern of privacy and freedom of expression may prevent WhatsApp or Facebook users from switching to WeChat.

WeChat has not built as many relationships in users' community as Facebook does. WeChat's Moments only shows you the comments and likes made by your friends, while on Facebook, you can see comments from a friend of your friend. Therefore, WeChat activates and strengthens networks based on strong-tie relationships, while Facebook allows users to build both strong and weak tie connections. This ability of building a wider network gives Facebook an advantage over WeChat. [3]

Furthermore, WeChat's international promotion is not localized. WeChat is originally designed for Chinese users. Consequently, it does well in the east Asian cultural sphere (a grouping of countries and regions in East Asia that were historically influenced by the culture of China). However, when it comes to promoting in western countries, the effort devoted to localise the application is always rather unsatisfactory. For instance, stickers in WeChat are mostly tailored to Chinese users. The lack of integration with other social media platforms that most westerners use like Twitter or Facebook is also a big problem. WeChat's complicated functionalities can be recognized as not only an advantage but can also be seen as nonuser-friendly. Most Chinese users agree that an all-purpose application is attractive, but westerners may prefer minimalistic applications with a specific function, like WhatsApp.

Possible Innovations


In order to survive and thrive in the global market, Tecent may need to further tailor WeChat’s functions according to the local markets and needs. It can build the brand recognition through engaging local opinion leaders, resources and talents. Continuing to leverage the word-of-mouth effect on potential overseas users is another good approach. The goal of these is to build more quality partnerships with other leading social networks and local business partners, as well as to build a better relationship with global WeChat users.

Operation System

One way of innovation is to make WeChat an even more all-rounded and all-purpose application. By doing so, WeChat may have the potential to become an operating system, since basically WeChat already have most functions in the application. WeChat already has many functions now: messaging, social networking, Video call, voice chat (takes 15% market share of China Mobile’s voice call service[4]), advertising, reading, news, cross-border payment, online marketing, and online shop in China.

In particular, WeChat can be expected to become an online shop worldwide in the future with the number of non-Chinese WeChat users increasing. The development of WalktheChat will give WeChat a push in its way to a global online shopping store. WalktheChat is a platform via which companies can create WeChat shop and reach the Chinese customers. Companies only need to upload their products information, and then WalktheChat can provide them with a network of Key Opinion Leaders, CPC platforms and affiliate programs to help the companies to generate traffics to their stores. Afterwards, Chinese clients can order from those online WeChat shop, and make payment via WePay or Alipay.[5]


Though WalktheChat is currently only a platform for companies targeting the Chinese market, as what has been stated above, we can expect that WalktheChat may become a global shopping platform for both off-line products and apps based on WeChat in the future. If managed properly, WeChat can become an operating system like Apple or Android, with WeChat shop becoming something like Apple Store.

Minimalist WeChat

Another way of innovation is to simplify WeChat. In order to gain global market shares, Tencent may need to give up on WeChat’s multiple functions and reposition itself as a messaging app, social network app or shopping app, rather than the combination of all. At the same time, Weixin in China will not go through such change, as most Chinese users are satisfied with its current state. We can expect that Weixin and WeChat become 2 applications differ not only by the name and language, but also the functions and positioning.

Stickers Flagship Store

As one of WeChat's biggest competitors in Asia, Line has successfully capitalized its stickers emoji used in the app, also called Line Friends.

Those line friends are so popular that Line Friends Flagship Store have been setup in Seoul, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, just for selling their merchandises. In January 2016, one of South Korea’s mid-range skincare brand Missha introduced a collaboration with Line Friends. Most of the products featuring Line friends characters were sold out on the day it was introduced. [1]

WeChat also has many adorable stickers emoji, the most popular ones among which have millions of downloads. It’s possible for WeChat to model Line’s capitalization of stickers to increase its revenue and build its brand recognition.


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