Where Facebook reigns in the west, WeChat reigns in the east. China’s block on western social media platforms has allowed Chinese companies to grow and dominate the market. WeChat, a relatively simple group messaging platform, rose to popularity without much competition. The platform shows a sense of intuition that other social media networks have not.
What is most intriguing about WeChat is that it has managed to make personal phone calls and texts in China obsolete. It has become pertinent through its ability to instinctively perceive the needs and wants of its users, and to provide it within the application. WeChat pay, an in-app payment function, is user-friendly and now so widely used that it is rare to find a store or even street-food vendor who does not accept this as a payment option. Furthermore, it is an impressive stand-alone function when compared to the western equivalents of Venmo and Square Cash. WeChat pay remarkably did away with the messiness of splitting the bill in small and large group outings through the ability to transfer money to contacts within the application.
WeChat also managed to create the cleanest addition of Gif’s (called stickers in the app) to their platform that I have seen yet. Other worthwhile functions they added is location sharing, which makes it easy to invite friends to a location for an outing or to locate a lost friend; voice and video calling, file sharing and red packets. Red packets, or HongBao in Chinese, is a play off the culturally relevant custom of giving red packets at Chinese New Year. WeChat modified the custom into a function which uses a randomization algorithm to dole out a specified quantity of money to a certain amount of individuals as they click on it to “open” the packet. They turned a once-a-year traditional custom into an everyday, socially relevant game. At heart, this is what has catapulted WeChat into a $70 billion social media giant over the past six years. The ability to anticipate the sociological and economical wants and needs of a society, and provide it in one application, so that life without WeChat becomes overwhelmingly problematic.
Meanwhile, Facebook is a dying social network, only sustained by the absence of a large scale networking platform competitor in the west. Millennials will tell you that Facebook became unhip the moment that their parents joined. The growing problem lies in Facebook’s complicated privacy settings, and the inability for the social media giant to continue growing it’s platform while maintaining the exclusivity which grew it in the first place. According to predictions made by EMarketer, there is a decline in American teenagers using the social network, with many opting for Instagram and Snapchat, both of which have much clearer and easier to manage privacy functions. Facebook’s platform makes it troublesome to add certain people (such as family and work colleagues) without also worrying about having to censor what you post and say. Weeding out unsavory friends is undiplomatic, especially when faced with invitations from family members or professional contacts. The importance that Facebook plays in the United States makes a friend request denial a personal offense, and will most likely affect your real life relationship. So the problem for many users is, how do they keep their Facebook accounts, but also easily share content with certain groups of people, without everyone seeing? WeChat has the answer with its platform centralizing on the creation of private groups.
There are groups on WeChat for everything and range from general social group chats to ultra-specific chats for sharing questions, recommendations, pictures, videos, ideas or for just general chatting. Aside from the group function, WeChat runs much like any other messaging application, with the addition of moments (the equivalent of Facebook’s ‘wall’ but with much less traffic and hidden interactions). Groups are grown through social networking, the creator sends invitations as the administrator and manages the group. They can also share QR codes in existing groups where they think they might find interested participants in the group chats theme. If you are in any Facebook groups you will notice some similarities here, however the main difference is in the functionality of the application in smaller social networks.
Facebook groups still use walls as the main source of communication, which ends in a messy array of irrelevant information and content that worsens the larger and more active the group becomes. Facebook has no cut off for the amount of people allowed in a group. Some groups run up to 40,000 participants and overwhelm your newsfeed with posts from people you’ve never even met. While you can block the feed from showing on your newsfeed, you will no longer receive any notifications and the locations of the singular group pages are not easily accessible. WeChat solves these issues by creating closed groups, with your ‘feed’ showing the amount of notifications from each or private messages from singular friends. You are able to choose to keep up with certain group chats or periodically jump into conversations from groups which do not interest you considerably. WeChat’s ultimate product is a social network which likens to real life friend groups. People create friends based off of similar interests and often times our social groups are separated into like-minded people with which we do different activities, have different personas or simply communicate with differently. WeChat’s goal is not to include everyone you possibly know in one group to share content with, but instead to find your niche within multiple chat rooms that genuinely interest you. In short, you create small communities within which you feel comfortable sharing content, or having open discussions.
One could pinpoint the absence of likes, and shares as the main difference between WeChat and other social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. On these sites the goal of posting is in the visibility. People worry about their amount of friends, how many likes their picture received, how someone views their profile. There is an overall theme on these sites that more is better, with people often buying “likes” and “friends” on Instagram to boost their profiles. WeChat sets itself apart by capping the size limit of groups at 500, but further complicating the growth of groups after they reach 100 participants. The blanket outcome is a sense of intimacy in a platform with nearly 889 million active users and a platform which does not struggle to maintain its sense of community through its rapid growth. Perhaps the overall problem with social media in the west, is the idea that everything must be shareable, that our entire life must be open the scrutiny of people that we truthfully, barely know. But in the age of “ the internet is forever” privacy has more appeal than ever, and Facebook should take note.