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What should we know about WeChat, the most popular social media platform in China?

WeChat is the most popular mobile app in China and an irreplaceable communication tool for the Chinese diaspora in countries around the world. People use WeChat to communicate with each other, share news, meet new people, be in touch with Chinese relatives. There are two versions of WeChat running from different data servers:

  • Weixin, which operates in China for mainland Chinese users
  • WeChat, which is an international version to serve overseas users.

As of today, Weixin and WeChat combined have about 1.2 billion monthly active users, trailing behind WhatsApp’s 2 billion and Facebook Messenger’s 1.3 billion. WhatsApp and Facebook, however, are blocked in China making WeChat the most commonly used social media platform among Chinese.

Why is WeChat so popular? In addition to the lack of alternatives, the success of WeChat comes from design features that appreciate the nuances of Chinese culture, its reserved nature, in particular. Contrary to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Line, users’ online status is invisible, and there are no read receipts. WeChat’s users are not pressured to respond to messages immediately, they are “wearing a Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak,” as described by one WeChat designer. The mobile wallet feature, for example, was designed with a deep consideration of Chinese heritage. It was introduced as a red-packet (hongbao) game. According to the Chinese tradition, working adults are expected to give red packets filled with money to their elders and kids in holiday seasons, sending well-wishes and sharing happiness.Connecting the mobile wallet feature with this age-old tradition contributed to the successful conversion of millions of Chinese mobile phone users into users of WeChat Pay in just one holiday season: 16 million red packets were sent on a peak day after its launch, and the number of people using WeChat payments soared from 30 million to 100 million within a month. WeChat reported 800 million monthly active users of WeChat Pay in the fourth quarter 2019.

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