WeChat outside China: what are the growth opportunities?

Thomas Graziani WeChat news

We outlined in our previous posts that WeChat has been focusing on growth in South East Asia, adopting an aggressive partnership strategy to fuel its expansion.

AppAnnie rankings as of early May 2015 tend to sustain the idea that WeChat is getting traction in at least some countries.

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Let’s have a closer look at the data.

GlobalWebIndex data

GlobalWebIndex is publishing very comprehensive studies based on user polling. Their research hints at a significant presence of WeChat outside mainland China:

Here is some of the GlobalWebIndex data (WeChat users, as % of smartphone users, and as of mid-2014, so a bit outdated)
– Malaysia: 38%
– Hong Kong: 30%
– India: 22%
– Singapore: 20%
– Philipines: 19%

This data is not taking into account user engagement, and was contradicting the first-hand testimonials we got from our customers in India and Philippines. So we looked deeper.

Google Searches don’t lie

We will use Google search volume as an estimate of the interest in WeChat over time via Google Adwords Tools and Google Trends. Using Google as a way to monitor an APP growth might seem like a surprising idea. It is actually an extremely efficient method. Just look at the correlation between searches for the keyword “WhatsApp” (WeChat’s closest competitor abroad) worldwide and the number of WhastApp users over 2 years:

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Mixed results for WeChat outside China

WeChat performance outside China is, as of today, restrained to countries with a large Chinese-speaking population such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan. Normalised search volume is 40 times larger in Malaysia than it is in India.

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In Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan, WeChat is maintaining a healthy (although not explosive) growth rate.

WeChat outside China

However, In other Asian countries such as India, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines, the amount of search has simply been plummeting after Tencent initial marketing push.

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Comparison with WhatsApp

One might consider that the poor performance of WeChat is simply due to the fact that it ceased being new, and is therefore drawing less interest. That is unfortunately not the case: APP’s which are experiencing a steady growth in downloads are also seeing a steady growth in search, even if they’ve been around for a long time.

In the 9 regions which we studied (India, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Africa, Philippines, Malaysia), WhatsAPP multiplied its search volume by 9 over 2 years, while WeChat search volume was slashed by half.

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Conclusion

WeChat outside China is currently mostly confined to regions having a significant Chinese-speaking population, such as Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. In such places, it is a growing force and being an early-adopter will get you an outstanding return on investment. In other countries, it might be wise to wait before significantly investing into ramping-up your WeChat strategy.

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