WeChat woos SA, but long way to go

2014-02-13 10:47
The WeChat social network has 300 million subscribers. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The WeChat social network has 300 million subscribers. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - When instant messaging applications emerged in South Africa, they fundamentally changed the way people could communicate, but as the market gets crowded, new players are trying hard to grow local audiences.

One newcomer in SA is working to differentiate itself as an ideal venue for friends and family to connect, but it has a big mountain to climb.

"We are working towards a natural tipping point, where we believe WeChat will reach critical mass and become part of the social fabric of South Africa," Brett Loubser managing director of WeChat South Africa told News24.

Tencent's WeChat is popular in China and was launched in SA and the application has proved popular with a top three ranking in the Google Play Store.

But Loubser cautioned that that it was still early days for the application in the country. There is also a significant TV advertising campaign to grow the app here.

"Right now, we are focusing on educating South Africans about the other unique functions of WeChat so that they don't just immediately associate us with instant messaging apps."


Internationally, WeChat has seen user adoption rates in excess of 370% during 2013 with spiking growth particularly in India, the Philippines and Malaysia.

In SA, WeChat is fifth on Play Store, where chat applications dominate the results. WhatsApp is the top app, followed by BBM and Facebook Messenger.

Loubser though, stressed that the app was unique because of the way it allowed people to interact with one another.

"WeChat is what we call a social communications application - so much more than your average instant messaging app. The reason it's called a 'communication application' and not a 'social network', is that it has been designed for private sharing of content with your friends."

Some users have complained that popular app WhatsApp's demands to be updated with no apparent increase in functionality leaves them suspicious about the app's activity.

From the permissions page, WhatsApp does require a range of personal device identifying information to run, though this seems par with other similar cross-platform apps, including BBM and WeChat.

WeChat offers voice messages and video chat along with features that Loubser said puts it ahead of the competition.

He would not divulge exact user numbers and adoption rates for SA, but was bullish about prospects for the app.

"Currently we do not share individual territory numbers, but we are pleased with the progress we have made. We are seeing strong, sustained growth in South Africa. When people download and register WeChat on their phones, they are usually quite surprised to see how many of their friends are already on board," said Loubser.

News24 is part of 24.com, a subsidiary of Media24, which is in the Naspers stable. WeChat is a subsidiary of Naspers.

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