Seven questions for Tencent and WeChat’s Wei Nie

As publishers flock to find and engage audiences on messaging apps, this is one of the key messages for publishers from Wei Nie, mobile communities director at the Chinese internet behemoth Tencent.

Nie will be at the FIPP World Congress from 13-15 October 2015 (see the provisional Congress programme here). The session will focus in particular on Tencent’s wildly popular messaging platform WeChat, which had 549 active monthly users in April this year, putting it squarely into social media giant territory and one that inspires even competitors.

For example, recently, re/code wrote about how Western messaging apps are looking to China’s WeChat for inspiration. “In China, WeChat has become a jack-of-all-trades app. There, you can use WeChat to buy an airline ticket, call for a Didi Dache (China’s version of Uber) or read the news. It’s a strategy that’s catching on in the west.”

Ahead of the FIPP Congress in Toronto, Nie tells us more about WeChat, its internationalisation and what publishers need to do to succeed in the WeChat world.

1. Tell our audience a little about yourself?

My name is Wei Nie. I worked as a reporter, editor and editor-in-chief in legacy media for nearly 10 years. I started in the new media industry when I joined Tencent Corporation in 2010. I would say my expertise lies in social media operations, integrated marketing and Internet development trends.

We have combined micro-communities in the mobile version of QQ to form what we call “Interest Tribe”. I work in our Mobile Community Product Centre, with the title director of operations.

In this position, I have to ensure that people understand the essence of a social platform and how to connect and cooperate through the platform, to make the most of it for them, and of course for us to grow.

2. For those people in our international audience unfamiliar with Tencent, please give a brief introduction to the company?

Tencent was founded in 1998. Today it offers a range of comprehensive Internet services and is one of the companies with the most Internet users in China [often described as the Facebook of China]. In recent years, we released WeChat, which became an instant hit in the market. The buzzword is “Internet plus,” something else Tencent drove.

3. Tell us more about WeChat (called Weixin in China)?

WeChat is the most popular social messaging platform in China. The free app combines instant messaging, social networking and online payment functions, a typical version of Internet 3.0. Moreover, it was designed to be open enough to create wholly new business around it.

WeChat had 549 million monthly active users in April this year. People use it mainly to connect, communicate, socialize and for the various services on offer through the platform [such as online/offline commerce].

4. With Tencent driving WeChat internationally, how does usage compare across markets?

I cannot divulge market-specific data, but it is fair to say most of our users are of course in China where we started. Nonetheless, we are seeing healthy numbers in markets including several in Southeast Asia as well as the United States. 

We have offices with “on the ground support” in several worldwide regions, overseeing things like marketing and customer support. Markets include India, Italy, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and more.

5. There is a big drive worldwide with publishers making content directly available on social media/messaging platforms. It is of course no different with WeChat, but there is more to it than merely publishing content. Tell us more about how publishers are working with WeChat?

WeChat is an open platform and even including all its functions, is a very simple and convenient app to use.

When it comes to publishers, the place to start is actually mindset. We have had the broadcast [or push] era and the interactive communication era [the first social media wave], but have now entered the “3.0” era of online life, which encompasses publishing, interactive communication, utility and a variety of services, payments and so on.

Publishers have had many readers in the past, but you could not truly “connect” with your users, let alone deeply understand them. However, on WeChat you not only “see” your reader, you can also learn about their interests, hobbies and “segment” them accordingly to target their interests and needs more precisely. This enables you to amplify audience value and realize deeper monetization opportunities.

Several media organisations already use WeChat. These are not “partnerships” per se; they simply use our platform as a channel to engage with their audiences, where their audiences [or potential audiences] are.

I can recommend some examples to look at to get an idea of what they are doing.

China News Weekly delivers “high quality, recommended” content to build and engage their community. They then offer their users the opportunity to engage further through a number of initiatives, including user-generated content opportunities, offering a variety of incentives and purchasing applications, and for audiences to generally develop their online lives around the brand.

Southern Metropolis Entertainment Weekly has a very good public account. Apart from an abundance of content, they use data extremely well to filter and recommend content to users. They also integrate the “interaction and we community (which will be renamed is Interest Buluo soon)” really well to offer their users a place to connect and engage. This really overcomes a legacy media problem, which was that brands were “at a distance” from their readers.

6. What should publishers think about if/when they get involved with WeChat?

There are several steps in what I call “the long [and ongoing] march.” The four main ones are:

1. First it requires a change in mindset. This is not about content only, this is about a platform where content is but a part of the overall offering. The two requirements to be met are “content push” and “interactive (stickiness).” On the push side, in a sense your product is no longer a magazine or book in the traditional sense, because it has to adapt to the mobile Internet world. For example content consists of shorter snippets, images conveying messages are important (these should not be too big) and you have to think about the optimal time to push messages out for optimal content engagement.

2. The second thing you have to figure out how to attract fans, starting with promoting across your existing brand channels through to doing paid promotions.

3. Third, you have to launch and engage in new activities, activating existing fans to become more engaged and attracting new fans to join in – creating a typical network effect. You want to stimulate, create positive feedback and develop a closed loop between interactions with your brand and among your fans.

4. Fourth, you want to start building “fan collectives.” By this I mean fans with similar interests, recommending and sharing with them according to these interests. This is about context and relevance, whether social messages, content, and other activities your fans are interested in. By engaging your fans in this manner, your audience will begin to grow; users will become influencers and ultimately advocates to help you build the channel.

I hope these ideas will help, but I think the main starting point is not to regard the channel as a push platform, but to truly engage with lives online, to achieve breakthroughs with your content, and add other elements such as an O2O [Online to Offline] and monetization.

Moreover, you want to have a dialogue with your readers, you want to connect and engage with them and stimulate engagement among them and you want them to contribute content. In essence it is a shift in mindset, breaking from traditional ways of thinking about media, moving beyond purely expanding to new media platforms. It is about adopting a mindset where there is true understanding of the nature and the behaviour of consumers across these platforms, and capitalizing accordingly.

7. You will be one of the speakers at the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, Canada from 13-15 October. What are you looking forward to about being there?

I’m very interested to hear how magazine media see their future, how they think about moving beyond printed media to new media environments, and in particular mobile media.

Join FIPP, Wei Nie and other leading speakers for the FIPP World Congress – read more about it here.

More about Tencent and WeChat

Tencent was founded in 1998. It’s portfolio include, among others, WeChat, QQ instant messenger,, QQ games, Qzone,, SoSo, PaiPai and Tenpay. It brings together hundreds of millions of Internet users addressing areas such as communication, information, entertainment, e-commerce and more. For more see Tencent Holdings.

Bloomberg summarised four key numbers from the company’s latest earnings call (for Q1 2015):

• 549 million: Monthly active users on WeChat, up 9.9 per cent from the previous quarter. The app, known as Weixin in China, is Tencent’s main platform for social media, gaming and advertising.

• 2.7 billion yuan (around US$436 million): The revenue from online advertising more than doubled in the first three months since WeChat introduced it in the “Moments” section, a Facebook-like feature where users post photos and status updates.

• 4.4 billion yuan (around $710 million): The revenue Tencent’s reaped from smartphone games distributed via Mobile QQ, WeChat and its YingYongBao app store.

• 22.4 billion yuan (around $3,613 million): Tencent’s total sales in the quarter ended March 2015, up 22 per cent from the previous year. 

Media24, a FIPP member, is a subsidiary of the Naspers group. Naspers bought 46.5 per cent of Tencent for $32m in 2001 (since diluted to 34 per cent)… Today, its stake is worth roughly $66 billion. Read this Bloomberg interview for more.

FIPP’s Cobus Heyl spoke to Wei Nie (via email) to compile this story.

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