China’s super app WeChat announced on Thursday a string of new upcoming features and a plan to allow its users to generate short-form content on its platform, during Tencent’s WeChat flagship annual conference held in Guangzhou, the app’s birthplace.
Allen Zhang, the founder of WeChat, was absent this year, but he delivered a video speech covering the latest updates about the Chinese “everything app” with more than 1.15 billion registered users, saying that “speaking via products is what we should do.”
Zhang highlighted the company’s arguably new direction on short-form content, China’s new trend on social media boosted by rival short-video app ByteDance’s Douyin (internationally known as TikTok). “Short-form content on WeChat has always been a focused direction,” Zhang said.
He also focused on WeChat’s mini programs and on the platform refreshed WeChat Search function, all features that Tencent hopes will maintain WeChat as the dominant app in China. The number of monthly active users of WeChat increased by 6% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2019, but according to research by data firm Quest Mobile, users are spending 4.2% less time on the app as compared to 2018. Still, about 42% of Chinese users’ time online is on WeChat, as reported by The South China Morning Post.
WeChat short-form content will come soon
“If everything goes well, it will debut soon in a new version of WeChat,” Zhang said, although failing to provide a specific date, or more details about what kind of short-form content.
According to Caixin Global, Tencent might reduce some of its strict limits on user-generated content on the platform.
Zhang pointed out that WeChat has done two things wrong. First, it initially only allowed its creators to edit content from a PC, and secondly, the current text-based form of WeChat public account limits the possibility of other formats.
Possibly, WeChat would allow its users to produce more short-video content on the app, in a time when Tencent is losing ground to ByteDance and also to its backed short-video platform Kuaishou, which are both enjoying increasing popularity in China and internationally.
Meanwhile, WeChat’s self-built similar offering, Weshi, is struggling to gain an edge. Tencent expects that daily active users (DAUs) of Weshi will surpass 50 million this year, while Douyin recently hit 400 million DAUs and Kuaishou reportedly has over 300 million DAUs.
“After all, expression is everyone’s natural need,” Zhang added.
Mini program to boost businesses growth
In 2020, WeChat’s innovative mini programs will focus on empowering business ecosystems and opening up more capabilities for developers, including live-streaming functions, according to the company.
Mini programs were first pioneered by Tencent in 2017. Unlike traditional apps, they reside within WeChat and can be accessed on-demand to perform a variety of functions like food ordering, ride-hailing, ticket purchasing, and more. Mini programs currently have over 300 million DAUs and recorded total transactions for a value that exceeded RMB 800 billion in 2019, up 160% year-on-year.
Other major Chinese tech players like Alipay, Meituan, Baidu, and ByteDance all started to build their own mini-program ecosystem.
Tencent started to test live-streaming features in mini program since September last year, KrASIA reported, a field that is increasingly becoming a significant channel for e-commerce sales. Alibaba’s marketplace Taobao sold over RMB 100 billion (USD 14.9 billion) via live streaming by April 2018, just to name an example.
Tencent also bets on a better search motor
WeChat will revamp its search function to integrate more content, services, and brand-related functions. Services and content of mini programs will be also shown directly in search results, according to the company.
The refreshed search tool, simply labeled as WeChat Search, which is still under test and will be launched in the near future, is expected to play the role of a connector among all of WeChat mini programs and other content. A Tencent spokesperson told KrASIA that the new search engine will also highlight short video results.
Rival ByteDance has also been developing search engine Toutiao Search on the back of its rich content ecosystem, KrASIA reported.
WeChat also revealed the most searched keywords for news within the platform: “Black hole”, “Notre-Dame de Paris” and “Anti-mafia crackdown” on the podium.