8 Biggest Announcements from WeChat 2018 Annual Conference
Allen Zhang, the creator of WeChat, gave an inspirational talk at the WeChat Open Class conference in Guangzhou. Here are the 8 trends for WeChat in 2018.
1. WeChat is going to launch a separate APP for the Official Accounts
Allen announced WeChat will soon to launch a separate APP just for WeChat Official accounts. He indicated the team has been working on this APP for some time, and they are finally ready to launch it in 2018.
The App will be used:
• By Operators to run their WeChat Official Accounts
• By readers to access content more easily
This is an unusual move for WeChat: Tencent has always tried to put as many functions as possible within one App. Now it's taking a more "Facebook" approach to development by splitting some of the content consumption to a separate App.
It's interesting to note that Facebook had actually tried to launch a similar content-specific App called "Paper". Launched in January 2014, Paper was discontinued in July 2016.
2. Tips on iOS device will resume
We wrote about the declaration of the Tip war between Apple and WeChat: Apple demanded a 30% commission from the tips features for the WeChat account, and WeChat shut down the feature for all iOS users. Since then, many authors started using personal QR codes to receive tips for their WeChat articles, an inelegant replacement.
Here is an example of an account using Mini Programs to get tips from his readers, used by Keso, a famous Chinese tech blogger:
Allen indicated that WeChat has worked out a deal with Apple to bring back the tip feature to all iOS users. The new Tip feature will give readers 2 options:
1 Tip to the WeChat Official Account, which is usually linked to the company's bank account
2 Tip straight to the article author's personal account
3. Author-centric ecosystem
Allen indicated that the WeChat system will give more recognition to authors.
WeChat will also recognize authors as independent parties, meaning an author could have a dedicated page, where you can find the history of their published works. Each author could write for different Official Accounts.
This puts more focus and power on individual contributors. WeChat is trying to incentivize each user to generate more high-quality content. This goes along with the strategy of having a separate APP for Official Accounts and having a mobile interface to edit the Official Account content.
The Official Account APP will give more exposure to shorter content (more focus on individual contributors), and the mobile editing interface will help individuals to generate content on the go.
4. Launch mobile version of the Official Account backend
Finally, WeChat is addressing this common request: enabling WeChat Official Account authors to manage their Official Account via their mobile phone.
Many 3rd party companies have launched platforms that enable you to manage Official Account content via mobile devices, but due to limitations such as WeChat QR code scan login, the user experience is often poor. WeChat is finally going to release a mobile version of their backend.
Currently, the Mini program version of OA backend only enables you to check Official Account data. But not publishing articles.
5. Mini Program will continue to be the main focus of WeChat development, with a heavy emphasis on games
Allen talked a lot about Mini Programs:
• Most WeChat users didn't start to use Mini Programs until last month when WeChat opened the Mini Program platform for games
• WeChat team will continue to push Mini Programs with a heavy focus on publishing games and attracting game developers
• Mini Programs are not only designed for e-commerce and games, they can be used in every industry
• WeChat will not provide a front-page access on WeChat to bring centralized traffic to Mini Programs (that would be similar to the App store). The platform remains decentralized
• Mini Program will not replace Apps, it just enables you to efficiently get things done without having to download an App - as such they are better suited for light-weighted games or simple use-cases (ex: Mobike)
Mini Program will continue to be the focus of WeChat team. Allen hopes that Mini Program's user experience will be good enough to acquire recurring users. Allen's famous quote on Mini Program is: "use it and leave, then come back again".
It's clear WeChat has the ambition to push its Mini Program to more users. Currently, there are 580,000 published Mini Programs, 170 million daily active users, 1 million Mini Program developers, and 2,300 3rd party platforms. The Mini Program trend is not stopping anytime soon.
6. WeChat will continue to focus on the search feature
The search feature (搜一搜) inside of WeChat was released in May 2017. But still, not many people use it. Allen mentioned one of the focus for 2018 is to continue to optimize the search feature.
Given the poor search results, the lack of users using the search feature does not come as a surprise. It's unclear what are the SEO rules for WeChat search. Often times unpopular articles rank first in search. Below are the search results for the word "news", articles with only 1,700 views and irrelevant emojis are ranked on the top.
What the WeChat teams want to do is enable WeChat search to directly display results via WeChat Mini Program integration.
It's already starting to do such integrations with airlines: if you search for a flight number in WeChat Search, it will display the airline Mini Program with the flight current status, boarding gate, arrival and take off time. You can even setup WeChat notifications to get the latest status of the flight.
7. WeChat for Work
The current WeChat for Work App is mainly used for internal company communication. Allen revealed the WeChat for Work App will add a new feature that enables employees to communicate with users outside of the company.
This is particularly interesting as a lot of salespeople are using WeChat in order to stay in touch with their clients or partners. WeChat for Work will enable to keep this convenient mode of communication while bringing the data back into the company's database and CRM systems.
8. WeChat will not have "Facebook style" newsfeed for Subscription Accounts
Allen denied the speculation for an AI-based display of news for subscription accounts.
He emphasized the decentralized nature of WeChat: WeChat will never select which content is pushed to users. It’s a very decentralized system so that users can decide which content they want to see.
WeChat is going for groundbreaking changes in 2018: mini-games, search, WeChat for Work are all areas where users, investors, and competitors are anxious to see how WeChat will do.
One thing is sure: WeChat managed to become much more than a Facebook copycat. The areas that it's pioneering are new, innovative and exciting.