Tencent pushes WeChat in US

Updated: 2014-01-28 09:55

By YU WEI in San Francisco (China Daily USA)

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

WeChat US users who connect their WeChat account with their Google accounts will get a $25 restaurant.com gift card if they invite five Google contacts to join the service by Jan 31.

Darius Grantz, product manager at Silicon Image, is a US user who got the message from the WeChat team. 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 is only for me to communicate with my Chinese or 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 today has about 300 million registered users in China and 100 million overseas, making it the most popular messaging and social media app in China, the world's largest smartphone market.

As one of the main results of Tencent's globalization effort, WeChat first went global as its English branding was created in 2012. It has made a splash in many emerging countries, including Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Last year, Tencent opened a US office for WeChat but has hardly done any real promotion there. An analyst said that it is no easy task for WeChat to become 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.

However, Jiang pointed out that there are many challenges for WeChat in the US. In addition to the competition from US popular messaging app WhatsApp, users have 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 signaling 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 market from a business point of view. "WeChat can have a reasonably large footprint worldwide with no US presence," he said.

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

According to Wired, 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.

"Google has probably the biggest combined presence on the internet and mobile space today via gmail and android 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.

Contact the writer at yuwei12@chinadailyusa.com