WeChat ( Chinese : 微信 ; pinyin : ; literally: "micro-message") is a Chinese social media ( instant messaging , commerce and payment services ) mobile application software developed by Tencent . It was first released in 2011, and by 2017 it was one of the largest standalone messaging apps by monthly active users , [11] [74] with over 980 million monthly active users (902 million daily active users). [75] [76] It has been called China 's "App For Everything" because of its many functions and platforms, and lauded as one of the world's most powerful apps. [77] [78] [79] [80]


WeChat began as a project at Tencent Guangzhou Research and Project center in October 2010. [25] The original version of the app, was invented by Xiaolong Zhang, named "Weixin" by Ma Huateng , Tencent CEO [26] and launched in 2011. The government has actively supported the development of the e-commerce market in China—for example in the 12th five-year plan (2011–2015). [81]

By 2012, when the number of users reached 100 million, Weixin was re-branded "WeChat" for the international market. [27]

WeChat had over 889 million monthly active users in 2016, [29] [30] 90% of whom were Chinese. [82] For comparison, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp (two other competitive international messaging services better known in the West) had about a billion Monthly Active Users in 2016 but did not offer most of the other services available on WeChat. [74] [83] For example in 2Q 2017 WeChat's revenues from social media advertising were about US$ 0.9 billion (6 billion Yuan) compared to Facebook's total revenues of US$ 9.3 billion, 98% of which were from social media advertising. WeChat's revenues from its value added services were US$ 5.5 billion. [84]


WeChat provides text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast (one-to-many) messaging, video conferencing, video games, sharing of photographs and videos, and location sharing. [85] [17] It can exchange contacts with people nearby via Bluetooth , as well as providing various features for contacting people at random if desired (if people are open to it). It can also integrate with other social networking services such as Facebook and Tencent QQ . [18] Photographs may also be embellished with filters and captions, and an automatic translation service is available.

WeChat supports different instant messaging methods, including text message, voice message, walkie talkie and stickers. Users can send previously saved or live pictures and videos, namecards of other users, coupons, lucky money packages, or current GPS locations with friends either individually or in a group chat. WeChat's character stickers, such as Tuzki , resemble and compete with those of LINE , a Japanese messaging application. [31]

Official accounts

WeChat supports users who wish to register as an official account, which enables them to push feeds to subscribers, interact with subscribers and provide them with services. There are three types of official accounts: a service account, a subscription account and an enterprise account. Once users as individuals or organizations set up a type of account, they cannot change it to another type. By the end of 2014, the number of WeChat official accounts had reached 8 million. [32] Official accounts of organizations can apply to be verified (cost 300 RMB or about US$ 45). Official accounts can be used as a platform for services such as hospital pre-registrations, [33] visa renewal [34] or credit card service. [35]


Moments is WeChat's brand name for its social feed of friends updates. Moments allows users to post images, post text, post comments, share music (associated with QQ Music or other web based music services), share articles and post "likes." Moments can be also linked to Facebook and Twitter accounts, and can automatically post Moments content directly to these two platforms. [36]

In 2017 WeChat had a policy of a maximum of two advertisements per day per Moments user. [83]

Privacy in WeChat works by groups of friends - only the friends from the user's contact are able to view their Moments' contents and comments. The friends of the user will only be able to see the likes and comments from other users only if they are in mutual friends group. For example, friends from high school are not able to see the comments and likes from friends from university. When users post their moments, they can separate their friends into a few groups, and they can decide whether this Moment can be seen by particular groups of people. [86] Contents posted can be set to "Private", and then only the user can view it.

WeChat Pay payment services

In China, users who have provided bank account information may use the app to pay bills, order goods and services, transfer money to other users, and pay in stores if the stores have WeChat payment option. Vetted third parties, known as "official accounts", offer these services by developing lightweight "apps within the app". [87]

WeChat Pay is a digital wallet service incorporated into WeChat, which allows users to perform mobile payments and send money between contacts. [37] Every WeChat user has their own WeChat Payment account. Users can acquire a balance by linking their WeChat account to their debit card, or by receiving money from other users. Users who link their credit card can only make payments to vendors, and cannot use this to top up WeChat balance. WeChat Pay can be used for digital payments, as well as payments from participating vendors. As of March 2016, WeChat Pay had over 300 million users. [40]

In 2014 for Chinese New Year , WeChat introduced a feature for distributing virtual red envelopes , modelled after the Chinese tradition of exchanging packets of money among friends and family members during holidays. The feature allows users to send money to contacts and groups as gifts. When sent to groups, the money is distributed equally, or in random shares ("Lucky Money"). The feature was launched through a promotion during China Central Television 's heavily watched New Year's Gala , where viewers were instructed to shake their phones during the broadcast for a chance to win sponsored cash prizes from red envelopes. The red envelope feature significantly increased the adoption of WeChat Pay. A month after its launch, WeChat Pay's user base expanded from 30 million to 100 million users, and 20 million red envelopes were distributed during the New Year holiday. In 2016, 3.2 billion red envelopes were sent over the holiday period, and 409,000 alone were sent at midnight on Chinese New Year.

In 2016, WeChat started a service charge if users transferred cash from their WeChat wallet to their debit cards. Each user had a 1,000 Yuan (about US$ 150) free withdrawal limit. Further withdrawals of more than 1,000 Yuan were charged a 0.1% fee with a minimum of 0.1 Yuan per withdrawal. Other payment functions including red envelopes and transfers were still free. [88]

WeChat Pay's main competitor in China and the market leader in online payments was Alibaba Group's Alipay . Alibaba company founder Jack Ma considered the red envelope feature to be a " Pearl Harbor moment", as it began to erode Alipay's historic dominance in the online payments industry in China, especially in peer-to-peer money transfer. The success prompted Alibaba to launch its own version of virtual red envelopes in its competing Laiwang service. Other competitors, Baidu Wallet and Sina Weibo , also launched similar features.

In 2017 Tencent reported that WeChat had overtaken Alibaba with 600 million active WeChat mobile payment users versus 450 million for Alibaba's Alipay. [83] However Alibaba had a 54% share of the Chinese mobile online payments market in 2017 compared to WeChat's 37% share. [89]

City Services

In 2015 WeChat has launched the City Services feature [90] in 27 cities across China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. [41] City Services included booking doctor appointments, paying electricity fees or traffic fines, and booking transportation. [42]

Heat Map

In 2015, WeChat offered a heat map feature that showed crowd density. Quartz columnist Josh Horwitz alleged the feature is being used by the Chinese government to track irregular assemblies of people to determine unlawful assembly. [91]

Enterprise WeChat

For work purposes, companies and business communication, a special version of WeChat called Enterprise WeChat (or Qiye Weixin) was launched in 2016. The app was meant to help employees separate work from private life. [19] In addition to the usual chat features, the program let companies and their employees keep track of annual leave days and expenses that need to be reimbursed, employees could ask for time off or clock in to show they were at work. [19] [20] [92]

WeChat Mini Program

In 2017, WeChat launched a feature called the "Mini Program". [94] Consumers could, for example, scan the Quick Response code using their mobile phone at a supermarket counter. The Mini Program app paid the supermarket bill through the user's mobile wallet. [81] There was no need to install additional applications on mobile devices and business owners could create mini apps in the WeChat system. [95]

Friend seek

WeChat allowed people to add friends by a variety of methods, including searching by username or phone number, adding from phone or email contacts, playing a "message in a bottle" game, or viewing nearby people who are also using the same service. In 2015 Wechat added a "friend radar" function. [43]

WeChat Index

In March 2017, Tencent released Wechat Index. By inserting a search term in the WeChat Index page, users could check the popularity of this term in past 7, 30, or 90 days. [96] The data were mined from data in official WeChat accounts and metrics such as social sharing, likes and reads were used in the evaluation. [97]

In May 2017 Tencent started news feed and search functions for its WeChat app. The Financial Times reported this was a "direct challenge to Chinese search engine Baidu ". [98]

WeChat Out

In January 2016, Tencent launched WeChat Out, a VOIP service allowing users to call mobile phones and landlines around the world. The feature allowed purchasing credit within the app using a credit card. WeChat Out was originally only available in the United States, India, and Hong Kong, but later coverage was expanded to Thailand, Macau, Laos, and Italy. [99] [100]

Services under development in 2017

In 2017, WeChat was reported to be developing an augmented reality (AR) platform as part of its service offering. Its artificial intelligence team was working on a 3D rendering engine to create realistic appearance of detailed objects in smartphone-based AR apps. They were also developing a simultaneous localization and mapping technology, which would help calculate the position of virtual objects relative to their environment, enabling AR interactions without the need for markers, such as Quick Response codes or special images. [101]


Global censorship

Starting in 2013 reports arose that Chinese language searches even outside China were being keyword filtered and then blocked. This occurred both on incoming traffic to China from foreign countries but also exclusively between foreign parties (The service had already censored its communications within China). In the international example of blocking, a message was displayed on users' screens: "The message "南方周末" your message contains restricted words. Please check it again." These are the simplified Chinese characters for a Guangzhou-based paper called Southern Weekly (or, alternatively, Southern Weekend ). The next day Tencent released a statement addressing the issue saying "A small number of WeChat international users were not able to send certain messages due to a technical glitch this Thursday. Immediate actions have been taken to rectify it. We apologize for any inconvenience it has caused to our users. We will continue to improve the product features and technological support to provide a better user experience." WeChat planned to build two different platforms to avoid this problem in the future; one for the Chinese mainland and one for the rest of the world. The problem existed because WeChat's servers were all located in China and thus subjected to its censorship rules. [44] [45]

Two censorship systems

In 2016, the Citizen Lab published a report saying that WeChat was using different censorship policies in mainland China and other areas. They found that: [102]

  1. Keyword filtering was only enabled for users who registered via phone numbers from mainland China;
  2. Users did not get notices any more when messages are blocked;
  3. Filtering was more strict on group chat;
  4. Keywords were not static. Some newfound censored keywords were in response to current news events;
  5. The Internal browser in WeChat blocked Chinese accounts from accessing some websites such as gambling, Falun Gong and critical reports on China. International users were not blocked except accessing some gambling and pornography websites.

Restricting sharing websites in "Moments"

In 2014, WeChat announced that according to "related regulations", domains of the web pages that want to get shared in WeChat Moments need to get an Internet Content Provider ( ICP ) licence by Dec 31, 2014 to avoid being restricted by WeChat. [47]

Digital marketing

Marketing history

WeChat’s advertising significantly affected China’s society, and helped drive digital marketing strategies. Many campaigns were launched to attract new users and retain existing ones since 2011. In 2015, one campaign reviewed the user’s life over the past year and was timed to coincide with the fourth WeChat anniversary. Users could trace their history such as the first friend on WeChat or how many "Likes" they received that year. The campaign created value with the digital marketing, by relating products and customers together. [104] Users appreciated this campaign because it witnessed their growth along happiness and sadness. In another major campaign in 2016, users could upload a paid photo on "Moments" and only someone willing to pay for it could see the photo and comment on it. The photos were taken down each night. [105]

WeChat has been used by Chinese companies as part of a social media digital marketing strategy, to share information and boost their brands. [106] [107]

Wechat paid advertising

Tencent tested paid advertising on 2015, January. [108] Companies were required to have a Chinese business license and Chinese bank account in order to use the advertising services. [109]

Types of advertsing on Wechat

1. Wechat Moments Ads

Wechat Moments ads are advertisements that are displayed in user's Moments. A Wechat Moments Ad includes brand name, profile, short description, Max.6 pictures or a 6 to 15 seconds short video, a link to a webpage hosted on Tencent's server. Moments ads are like regular Moments post but with a sponsored tag. Users can interact with the ads: they can like and comment on the post. The price of Wechat Moment advertisement depends on where and when this ad will be displayed. Usually, the minimum budget for an ad is 50,000 RMB (about US$ 7,500). [110]

2. Wechat official Account Ads

Digital marketing in China

High service and low cost

Compared with Facebook and other social media, WeChat allowed businesses to open an account and gain a following on the platform for free. [105] Businesses could send messages to the followers and get frequently links with them.

Huge consumer base

WeChat had a large number and wide range of users with differing ages. Business that put advertisements on WeChat had a wide range of potential customers. [104]

Content marketing

Connecting with WeChat’s huge customer base could be the determining factor to turn users from prospect into customers by leaving a lasting impression about brands and by sending content to educate the users. [111] [112]

Key Opinion Leaders

Many Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) (people who were influential and had established significant followings on social media) were active on the WeChat. [113] KOLs have been particularly effective for promoting branding for Chinese companies who have recruited and developed relationships with KOLs as the latter can help build and e-reputation and share the information about the products. For example, in 2016 L'Oréal China cooperated with Papi Jiang (a popular KOL and blogger who had over 10 million followers) to promote their products. Over one million people watched her first video promoting L'Oreal's beauty brand MG. [114] [115]

Security concerns

WeChat operates from China under Chinese law, which includes strong censorship provisions and interception protocols. WeChat contains the ability to access the text messages and contact books of its users and users' locations through the GPS feature.

Countries and regions such as India, the United States, China and Taiwan all fear that the app poses a threat to national or regional security for various reasons. [49] [50] In Taiwan, legislators were concerned that the potential exposure of private communications was a threat to regional security. In June 2013, the Indian Intelligence Bureau flagged WeChat for security concerns. India has debated whether or not they should ban WeChat for its possibility in collecting too much personal information and data from its users. [50] [72] [72]

In 2016 Tencent was awarded a score of zero out of 100 in an Amnesty International report ranking technology companies on the way they implement encryption to protect the human rights of their users. The report placed Tencent last out of a total of 11 companies, including Facebook, Apple, and Google, for the lack of privacy protections built into WeChat and QQ . The report found that Tencent did not recognize online threats to human rights, did not make use of end-to-end encryption , did not disclose government requests for data, and did not publish specific data about its use of encryption. [72] [72]

A September 2017 update to the platform's privacy policy detailed that log data collected by WeChat included search terms, profiles visited, and content that had been viewed within the app. Additionally, metadata related to the communications between WeChat users - including call times, durations, and location information - was also collected. This information, which was used by Tencent for targeted advertising and marketing purposes, might be disclosed to representatives of the Chinese government: [72] [72]

  1. To comply with applicable law or regulations.
  2. To comply with a court order, subpoena, or other legal process.
  3. In response to a request by a government authority, law enforcement agency, or similar body.


Users in China also have expressed concern for the privacy issues of the app. Human rights activist Hu Jia was jailed for three years for sedition . He speculated that the officials of the Internal Security Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security (known as guobao), listened to his voicemail messages that were directed to his friends, repeating the words displayed within the voice mail messages to Hu Jia. Chinese authorities have further accused the WeChat app of threatening individual safety. China Central Television (short CCTV), a state run broadcaster, featured a piece in which WeChat was described as an app that helped criminals due to its location-reporting features. CCTV gave an example of such accusations through reporting the murder of a single woman who, after he attempted to rob her, was murdered by a man she met on WeChat. The location-reporting feature, according to reports, was the reason for the man knowing the victim's whereabouts. Authorities within China have linked WeChat to numerous crimes. The city of Hangzhou , for example, reported over twenty crimes related to WeChat in the span of three months. [72]

Supporters of the app have argued that WeChat was safe overall. Martin Johnson, a founder of the anti-censorship in China site GreatFire.org, stated that WeChat was less of a potential threat than the app Weibo which was modelled on WeChat's focus on messaging between well-known acquaintances and social groups. Doug Young, a Shanghai-based author of the Party Line, noted that while the app might practice self-censorship within China, it would not, however, practice the same self-censorship outside China. Doing so, according to Young, would affect the app's image and possibly hamper its global expansion. [72]

XcodeGhost malware

In 2015, Apple published a list of the top 25 most popular apps infected with the XcodeGhost malware, confirming earlier reports that version 6.2.5 of WeChat for iOS was infected with it. [72] [11] The malware originated in a counterfeit version of Xcode (dubbed "XcodeGhost"), Apple's software development tools, and made its way into the compiled app through a modified framework . [59] Despite Apple's review process, WeChat and other infected apps were approved and distributed through the App Store . Even though some sources claimed that the malware was capable of prompting the user for their account credentials, opening URLs and reading the device's clipboard , [11] Apple responded that the malware was not capable of doing "anything malicious" or transmitting any personally identifiable information beyond "apps and general system information" and that it had no information that suggested that this had happened. Some commentators considered this to be the largest security breach in the App Store's history. [59]


In September 2013 WeChat was blocked in Iran. Authorities cited WeChat Nearby (Friend Radar) and the spread of pornographic content as the reason of censorship.

The Committee for Determining Instances of Criminal Content (a working group under the supervision of the attorney general) website FAQ says: [11] [11]

"Because WeChat collects phone data and monitors member activity and because app developers are outside of the country and not cooperating, this software has been blocked, so you can use domestic applications for cheap voice calls, video calls and messaging."

Mobile phone applications

WeChat's mobile phone app works on Android , iPhone , BlackBerry , Windows Phone , and Symbian phones. Web-based OS X [11] and Windows [11] clients also exist. This however requires the user to have the app installed on a supported mobile phone for authentication, and neither message roaming nor 'Moments' are provided. [11]

Web client

WeChat provides WebWeChat, a Web-based client with messaging and file transfer capabilities. WeChat is largely an Android app, although it also provides a WeChat app for Apple Mac users. Other functions cannot be used on it, such as the detection of nearby people, or interacting with Moments or Official Accounts. To use the Web-based client, it is necessary to first scan a QR code using the phone app. This means it is not possible to get onto the WeChat network if you do not possess a suitable smartphone with the app installed. [11]

WeChat could be accessed on Windows using BlueStacks until December 2014. [11] [63] Beginning then, WeChat blocks Android emulators and accounts that have signed in from emulators may be frozen. [64]

There have been some reported issues with the Web client. [122] Specifically when using English, some users have experienced autocorrect, autocomplete, auto-capitalization, and auto-delete behavior as they type messages and even after the message was sent. For example, "gonna" was autocorrected to "go", the E's were auto-deleted in "need", "wechat" was auto-capitalized to "Wechat" but not "WeChat", and after the message was sent, "don't" got auto-corrected to "do not". However, the auto-corrected word(s) after the message was sent appeared on the phone app as the user had originally typed it ("don't" was seen on the phone app whereas "do not" was seen on the Web client). Users could translate a foreign language during a conversation and the words were posted on Moments. [123]


In 2014 Burberry , partnered with WeChat to create its own WeChat apps around its fall 2014 runway show, giving users live streams from the shows. [67] Another brand, Michael Kors used WeChat to give live updates from their runway show, and later to run a photo contest "Chic Together WeChat campaign". [68] Several International brands used WeChat as a marketing tool in China but made limited use of other WeChat features such as customer service. [124]

In 2015 WeChat collaborated with Cogobuy's subsidiary IngDan Ltd [125] for the "WeChat Hardware Competition". Cogobuy and WeChat established an "Internet of Things" ( IoT ) ecosystem partnership with over one million followers the same year. [126] By forming a closed loop ecosystem, Cogobuy served each entrepreneur and innovator, even the entire IoT industry. IngDan Ltd provided the consolidated support with supply chain services and resource connectivity to assist hardware innovators to produce their products, as well as the platform to promote their products to WeChat followers through the collaboration. [66]

In 2015, WeChat partnered with eBay to together bring the eBay inventory onto Wechat store for buyers in China using Chinese Yuan. It was an extension of eBay's Customer-to-Customer marketing but the experience was through WeChat's application using Tenpay/Weixin Pay and inventory was surfaced as daily deals.

In 2016 WeChat partnered with 60 Italian (WeChat had an office in Milan) companies who were able to sell their products and services on the Chinese market without having to get a licence to operate a business in China. [127] WeChat partnered with an Italian company Digital Retex [75] to help companies set up their brands on the WeChat platform. In 2017, Andrea Ghizzoni, European director of Tencent, said that 95% of global luxury brands used WeChat. [127]

In 2017 WeChat partnered with the Singapore marketing agency theAsianIR to sell their platform's features to the international market. WeChat and theAsianIR [75] helped companies set up their brands on the WeChat platform using a proprietary viral word-of-mouth marketing system, which recruited influencers and agents at no charge to the companies.

See also