With the Internet in a flutter over this week’s news that WhatsApp is to begin rolling out voice calling to all users, and Facebook Messenger has launched a stand-alone web application, WeChat loyalists stand on the sidelines wondering smugly which WeChat feature will next make a belated debut to Western messaging platforms. While neither of these features were particularly ground-breaking or unique to WeChat, the sheer amount of innovation and speed of updates the Tencent app offers users certainly makes one wonder if WhatsApp’s “No Ads! No Games! No Gimmicks!” mantra is still well-placed in today’s marketplace, or if it’s become an excuse for laziness borne of market share.
While the inevitable merger of Messenger and WhatsApp will definitely muddy the waters a little, here’s my list of 7 more features WhatsApp could do with borrowing from WeChat, which should hopefully give marketers a better insight into how WeChat functions and why it’s so sticky:
Follow/create public accounts
The most relevant and most obvious for marketers is that WeChat allows users to subscribe to public accounts. These accounts, similar to Facebook pages, can be set up by businesses, public organisations and individuals, to reach their followers. WeChat official accounts bring brands straight into users’ pockets and allows direct interaction via any medium including text, video, sound and more.
Recall sent messages
Another more recently added feature of WeChat is the ability to recall any message sent within the last two minutes. Unless the recipient sees your message before you delete it, all they’ll receive is a notice saying “This person sent and then recalled a message”.
Text message translation
As WeChat extends its reach beyond Mainland China, it has had to come up with ways to reach a more international audience. Apart from being available in 20 languages and counting, WeChat is also able to translate to and from all of these languages. Whilst the translations might not always be perfect, the feature is useful not just for facilitating communication, but also for language learners.
Voice message to text transcription
We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve been sent a voice message but we’re either in a loud environment and can’t hear the message, or it’s inconvenient for us to listen to a voice message for some other reason. Not to worry, WeChat’s intelligent voice-to-text feature has you covered. Though currently only available in Mandarin Chinese, the feature is surprisingly accurate.
Maintain anonymity when adding people
One of the gripes WhatsApp users face is that to add anyone on WhatsApp, you need to exchange phone numbers. Sometimes you may not want to exchange numbers with a person, or sometimes it means giving away two numbers; the number you actually use, and the number you’ve registered WhatsApp to. With WeChat, your account is connected to your phone number (which you can easily change) but completely independent of it, so you can choose to give new acquaintances no more than a username or a QR code for them to add you.
For something a bit more frivolous: custom stickers. WhatsApp allows the standard set of emoticons, but no more, while popular Asian apps such as WeChat, Line and KakaoTalk are all making big bucks off buying and selling stickers (ie large emoticons). WeChat takes this one step further and allows you to create your own stickers in-app, share them, and save other people’s. These can be animated too and are just more way that WeChat allows users as well as brands to define themselves and how others see them.
Another gripe many people have with WhatsApp is that it imports all your phone contacts automatically and indiscriminately. Once it plunders them and loads them into your WhatsApp, there’s then no way to sort through them or categorise them in any way. As of Summer ’14, WeChat allows users to allocate custom tags to contacts. These tags can then be used to selectively broadcast messages or find relevant contacts easily.