Why Wechat is not that popular in developed markets?

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Mobile IM App

Wechat is taking mainland China by storm, and claimed to have over 600 million registered users globally, gaining popularity quickly in emerging markets like South East Asia, South American. But for those developed markets, not really attracting absorbing interests so far. I began to contemplate some reasons behind such phenomenon.

Before that, let us have a simple overview of all these major players now days.

Name Launch Date Country Origin Main Targeting Market Now
WhatsApp May 2009 US US, Europe
KaKao Talk March 2010 South Korea South Korea
Wechat Jan 2011 China China, Asia, South America
Line June 2011 Japan  Japan, Asia, South America
Snapchat July 2011 US Teens or younger generation in US

First, the worry of potential censorship from a communist country, kind of non-liberating identity attached to this app, no matter how many fancy features it offers.

I just found a Youtube video (see above), surveying the social IM preferences for people living in Hong Kong. They should be considered as Chinese ethnic group, but they often consider themselves vastly distinguished from Chinese living in mainland China. Most feedbacks were Whatsapp. One reason those HongKongnese concerned is Wechat conversation would be monitored by Chinese government.

Second, lack of digital cultural appealing, again a brainchild born and raised in China, not US.

Till this day, American culture, including its digital trends, often has more dominant influence on the rest of the world. For example people in HongKong might perceive it is cool to be westernized or Americanized, and as a result, prefer Whatsapp to Wechat.

In South Korea, a tinge of cultural protectionism might galvanize them to use Kakao Talk.

Third, old social habit is hard to break in the short run; after all in US or Europe, WhatsApp has certain first mover advantage and peopel there might stick to Whatsapp, Facebook app, or simply SMS.

Every time whenever an European visited China and was thrilled by certain features of Wechat, in the end, he would not adopt it once he returned to his home country, simply because most of his friends in Europe are not using Wechat.

Fourth, different user habit between east and west. Integration versus Segmentation.

An American guy commented that Wechat is essentially aggregating many apps’ functions within one app; he saw the ensemble of Instagram, Uber, Facebook, WhatsApp, Yelp, Okcupid etc. So he proudly said “we have them all in US, however we just do not put them together like Wechat

Could it be Chinese user habit is putting everything in one basket while western users are more inclined to separate them?

There must be more reasons, but above should create enough hurdles for Wechat ascending to success in developed markets in an accelerating speed.

Cecilia Wu

A witty, nutty and frosty writer who hopes to jot down moments of inspiration from her daily life

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