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Tencent wants to get Americans on WeChat

Publication Date : 29-01-2014


WeChat, the mobile messaging application from China's Internet giant Tencent, is stepping up efforts to boost its presence in the US by launching a new promotional campaign.

WeChat US users who connect their WeChat account with their Google accounts will get a US$25 gift card if they invite five Google contacts to join the service by Friday.

Darius Grantz, product manager at Silicon Image, is one US user who received the message from the WeChat team. But he said he hasn't connected his Google account with WeChat.

"I started to use WeChat last year on a business trip to Shanghai. The WeChat account is only for me to communicate with my Chinese or other Asian friends," Grantz said. "Most of my friends use WhatsApp, and they've never heard of WeChat."

Three years after being introduced in China, WeChat has about 300 million registered users in this country and 100 million overseas, making it the most popular messaging and social media app in China, the world's largest smartphone market.

One of the main results of Tencent's globalisation effort, WeChat went global as its English branding was created in 2012. It has made a splash in such emerging regions as Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Last year, Tencent opened a US office for WeChat but has not done much real promotion there.

One analyst said it is no easy task for WeChat to be a major player in a market like the US.

"WeChat's (US) expansion is interesting to watch. There is certainly room for good mobile apps including WeChat," said Jiang Min, assistant professor of communication at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

But Jiang pointed out that WeChat faces many challenges in the US. In addition to competition from WhatsApp, it has to overcome negative brand images associated with a "Made in China" information product, Jiang said.

"In a post-Snowden world, Chinese information products will be treated by privacy-sensitive consumers and governments with suspicion," she added.

Puneet Manchanda, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan, said WeChat's US exploration is a signalling story.

"WeChat wants to send a signal that it's a global player that can also take on the American market," Manchanda said. "If they can get a reasonable amount of market share in the US, it will be a big feather in their cap."

Manchanda said he is not sure that WeChat really needs a significant presence in the US from a business point of view. "WeChat can have a reasonably large footprint worldwide with no US presence," he said.

But he said it was the right strategy for Tencent to team up with Google.

According to Wired magazine, Google accounts for about 25 per cent 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.

"Google has probably the biggest combined presence on the Internet and mobile space today via Gmail and Android phones in the US," Manchanda said. "It is also a brand that American consumers are familiar and comfortable with."

Manchanda said partnering with Google makes complete sense.

"As many of these apps leverage a network effect, Tencent is on the right track in terms of providing incentives to Google customers to get their contacts or friends to sign up," he said.


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