Tencent's WeChat meets challenges overseas
2014-January-30 Source: Szdaily web edition
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China's Internet giant Tencent is pushing WeChat, a mobile messaging application, worldwide with the latest tryout in US.

Tencent announced on Jan. 25 an arrangement with Google in a promotion to invite more US users. Those who connect their WeChat account with their Google account and add five contacts receive a $25 Restaurant.com Gift card from Tencent.

Industry insiders see the move as a step in the right direction but are wary of difficulties to come.

"Linking to a Google account is beneficial for WeChat's development in the U.S.," said Zhang Yi, CEO of iMedia Research Institute, a mobile internet consulting agency.

It's not just about promotions and discounts to attract users, more work on functions tailored to the U.S. are urgently needed to acquire a reasonable market share, which will be a feather in Tencent's cap, Zhang said.

Google accounts for about 25 percent of all consumer Internet traffic running through North American ISPs. With so many consumer devices connecting to Google each day, it's bigger than Facebook, Netflix and Instagram combined.

Established in China on Jan. 21, 2011, WeChat is now one of the nation's hottest messaging apps with more than 279 million active users worldwide. Statistics from GlobalWebIndex suggested that 78 million of those users were overseas in Q4 2013.

WeChat first went global with an English front-end in 2012. It has been well received in Pacific-Asia, especially in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, across multiple smartphone OS platforms, but market share in the U.S. and Europe is very limited, and the user base remains confined to overseas Chinese.

Last year, Tencent opened a U.S. office for WeChat and invested 200 million dollars in promotions, including a TV commercial starring football star Lionel Messi to be aired in 15 countries.

Zhang Xiaolong, head of WeChat and vice president of Tencent, told Xinhua that he was proud of "Moment", a text and picture sharing innovation.

For Zhang, innovation is WeChat's main weapon in forays overseas, but the campaign is no easy matter.

Industry insiders believe the app will find a furiously competitive market where messengers like WhatsApp dominate, not to mention the possible cultural barriers.

"U.S. companies offer great packages to users, and social networking platforms like Facebook already have huge market shares, leaving WeChat only a small space to grow," said Zhang.

Accumulation of users is easier said than done, but WeChat has already made great progress in technology, capital and marketing, making it just possible that cultural barriers may be overcome, turning it into a truly global service, he added.

Editor: Olivia
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