Phone calls, emails and faxes move over. WeChat, China’s top social networking app initially designed for close friends to chitchat, is quietly taking over workplaces across the country, a study has found.
Operated by the Hong Kong-listed Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings, WeChat – more often known as Weixin – on the mainland, is already the dominant app in the country with 889 million monthly active users. It is used to send instant messages, buy movie tickets, pay utility bills, as well as for other services that make people’s personal lives more convenient.
But it doesn’t stop at people’s personal lives. With its huge user base and an increasing number of features enabling work-related tasks, WeChat continues to blur the line between personal and professional life with nearly 90 per cent of more than 20,000 surveyed web users in China seeing the app as their top choice for daily work communication.
The annual WeChat user behaviour report released on Monday by Penguin Intelligence, a Tencent research arm, found that 87.7 per cent of WeChat users use the app for daily work communication. Phones, text messages and fax machines were used by 59.5 per cent, and email by 22.6 per cent.
“There is a clear trend that WeChat is becoming ‘WeWork’ as more people see the app as the go-to app for work communication,” said Xue Yu, senior market analyst with IDC China.
Initially designed as an app for people to stay in touch with friends, about 57 per cent of the surveyed WeChat users say their new contacts on the app are work related.
It is becoming the norm for a growing number of Chinese business people to scan each other’s quick respond (QR) codes to connect on WeChat instead of exchanging name cards during meetings. Office workers share files through WeChat rather than using emails. Even conference calls can be made anytime, anywhere via WeChat as long as there is an internet connection.
“When people have more business relationships on WeChat they will need to maintain them and spend more time there. In the current stage, Tencent still has high potential to add WeChat Ads,” said Marie Sun, analyst with Morningstar Research.
WeChat users spent on average 66 minutes a day on the app in 2016, a significant increase from the previous year. About 34 per cent of WeChat users spent on average more than four hours on the app everyday last year compared with 16.3 per cent the year earlier.
While some people are fine mixing their personal and professional life on the same platform, others find WeChat has already taken up too much of their life. Min Jie, a 31-year-old real estate professional in Beijing, said that colleagues, friends and family all contact him via WeChat. “It feels like I am tied up with WeChat because the app make users extremely accessible. People can send you messages whenever they want and it is rude to not reply to them in time,” he said.
Some people may try to diversify away from WeChat because of their extensive use of the app, said Ma Shicong, analyst with the Beijing-based internet consultancy Analysys. “But most have to stay because where can they run to when their entire social connections are in one app?” she said.