Tencent’s WeChat in big push for Africa

 ·2 Jul 2013

Naspers and Tencent are making a big push to get the latter’s flagship social communication platform, WeChat, onto the minds and smartphones of South Africa’s consumers.

As part of Tencent’s global rollout of WeChat into new territories, the China based internet firm is making a strong push in South Africa and Africa, with the help of a local team backed by Naspers, which holds a 34% stake in Tencent.

WeChat is a social messaging platform which competes globally with the likes of WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, BlackBerry Messenger and Facebook Mobile.

Since Tencent’s last financial report in May 2013, the platform’s registered base has bolted past 400 million users world-wide, with a growing portion of 50 million users coming from outside of China.

Heading the platform’s operations in South Africa and Africa, WeChat SA managing director, Brett Loubser, is preparing to grab a foothold in the local market.

Loubser, an employee of Naspers, said his main purpose is to market WeChat in the region – and its something his team, operating as WeChat SA, is taking very seriously.

Instead of relying on word-of-mouth or viral marketing techniques, WeChat is taking a more direct approach to getting the word out, targetting Radio (5FM), TV ads (Sabc 2 and 3, e-tv and DStv), as well as social networks to sell its wares – a first for a product of its kind in SA.

“That (marketing strategy) is going to change the dynamics of how user acquisitions will work, and I think it is going to make competing [in South Africa] quite interesting,” Loubser said.

Brett Loubser

Brett Loubser

Local competition

In South Africa, WeChat is not only going to be competing against local companies like Mxit, but also the global players like Google, WhatsApp and Facebook.

While it has a presence on smartphones, Mxit is predominantly a feature-phone driven platform, while according to Loubser, WeChat is aiming mostly for smartphone users.

However, BlackBerry, Google, Facebook and increasingly, WhatsApp are well-established brands on smartphones – but Loubser believes the WeChat platform can compete.

“Tencent is also powerhouse in its own right – it’s one of the biggest Internet companies in the world; and they have the resources to compete. We have the backing of the Naspers group, locally, and it’s definitely a dynamic market – but I think the product stands up on its own,” he said.

“The product is just really great – it’s fun to use and it’s free. That’s the first thing. Secondly, WeChat isn’t purely an instant messaging platform, Tencent positions it as a social communications platform.”

The reason why the company differentates between social “communication” and social “networking” is because it’s private, Loubser said.

“The fundamental design of the product is based off the idea that your information isn’t necessarily something you want to share with the general public at large, so the social components built into the application – like your social feed – are private and shared with the people on your contacts list only.”

Another draw, Loubser said, is that the platform is cross-platform, on Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and even Symbian, and available for free.

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Show me the money

According to Loubser, the company has no monetisation strategy confirmed, but there are avenues to explore, over time.

The main drive is to offer a free app which is accessible to all – but will be possible to make money.

“It (the app) is not going to be charged for – that’s not the model. But traditional advertising isn’t the model either. The monetisation will likely, with time, come from ‘official’ accounts,” Loubser said.

Official accounts are brand or organisation profiles which users can interact with privately, one-on-one, on the platform. It’s an opt-in form of interaction that can be used to get news updates, or to troubleshoot/interact with companies and organisations through automated or even personal communication.

The SA lead pointed to deals and partnerships that Tencent has initiated with brands in China as a blueprint for the type of options that could be available locally down the line.

“For now, even the ‘official’ accounts are free – but monetisation will come from them in some or other form.”

For now, the WeChat SA team just want grow the platform’s numbers in SA, and to offer a solid product and service – but more importantly, to get as many people as possible onto the platform.

“And I want people to be happy with what the platform gives them,” Loubser said.

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