SHANGHAI — A few years ago, digital-marketing strategists were buzzing about how brands needed to tap into Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, as a platform to communicate with the country’s more than 500 million Internet users.
But now there is an alternative. While Sina Weibo, the most popular Chinese microblog site operated by Internet giant Sina Corporation, still remains an important component of brands’ digital marketing mix, a new social networking service has emerged that is rapidly becoming the next must-use tool to communicate with tech-savvy Chinese consumers. It is called WeChat, and since Tencent Holdings, also a Chinese Internet behemoth, launched it in late 2011, the service has amassed some 300 million users, 70 million of whom are located outside the mainland.
In its August report on social media use by brands globally, digital innovation think tank L2 called WeChat the “hottest platform on the planet.”
WeChat (known as Weixin in China) is similar to Whatsapp, a mobile messaging application popular in the West that enables users to send messages using their phone’s 3G or Wi-Fi connection. What makes WeChat unique is that it has rolled into one application popular features from other social networking services as well as a few distinct innovations.
Similar to Facebook’s activity feed, users can share photos, videos and music with WeChat contacts who can post comments about the content. A walkie-talkie function allows users to send real-time voice messages; there is a live video-chat feature, and subscribers can enable a “shake” function to locate users nearby. Users can also form chat groups of friends or with those who have similar interests. Most users are white-collar urbanites between the ages of 20 and 39, according to Tencent.
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