The world’s biggest group messaging app is the Chinese-made WeChat – or “Weixin” as it’s called in Chinese. The popular app is taking an interesting turn in China, where it is now also a platform for social media marketing, allowing blogs, newspapers, TV shows, brands, and celebrities to reach out directly to the app’s 100+ million users. All this action is happening via funky QR codes (pictured above).
This new aspect of WeChat is being pushed by its makers, Tencent, on mp.weixin.qq.com, where users of the messaging app can login and browse some interesting people or media to follow. It makes the messaging app a lot more like China’s Twitter clones, such as Sina Weibo, which has also become a hot social marketing destination in the past couple of years. Already, a bunch of Chinese celebrities have agreed to join in the fun, as well as popular TV shows and tech blogs. Some Chinese brands, too, are making us of these QR codes so as to connect with customers. It can only be a matter of time before western brands jump onto this new platform too.
To test this out, I went to Chinese-language tech blog iFanr.com and scanned its new WeChat QR code. Now I’ve friended – or followed – the site within WeChat, and it occasionally sends out a mass message to everyone who follows. Thankfully iFanr has been nice and just sent one or two feature stories in the form of messages each day. But, in theory, this whole marketing push could be used to spam users directly on their phones.
At the moment, though, the whole system is rather over-reliant on those QR codes. There’s no good way to search for all these brands, blogs, and celebs within the WeChat app, so you’ll need to find and snap that QR elsewhere on the web. It’s conceivable that Tencent will add some kind of discovery portal within the app soon. With that in place, the group messaging app will have taken a clever – if somewhat odd – step forward in becoming a lot more like Weibo or Twitter.
The WeChat app has always used QR as a way for users to let friends add their IDs in a convenient way. To that end, WeChat users can make customized QR-oriented name cards within the smartphone app, and then share that QR in any way they wish.
WeChat is designed to be Tencent’s first global success, building on its standing as China’s top web company by revenue. It’s up against other messaging apps such as Line, Kakaotalk, and Whatsapp. Download WeChat from its homepage.
Steven is a China-based editor at Techinasia.com, where a version of this article appeared originally.