Expat entrepreneurs in China crazy about WeChat

Published:  19 May at 6 PM
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A user behaviour report by China’s popular social media app WeChat has revealed it’s become an essential part of life for expat entrepreneurs, students and business owners.

WeChat’s user report, revealed on Wednesday, is the result of a survey of the app’s millions of users and covers all its functions including its stickers and the ‘hongbao’ red packets of money traditionally sent on festivals and important occasions. The most important function for expats is WeChatPay, used by foreigners for online shopping, dining, food delivery and transportation. according to 60 per cent of the survey’s expatriate respondents.

In comparison with the average Chinese user born during the last two decades of the 20th century, expat users are far more active on WeChat’s chat pages, with 60 per cent using it for messages, 42 per cent for voice calls and 13 per cent preferring video chat. Surprisingly, another function popular with foreign users is the ‘hongbao’ traditional red money packages service, with at least 10 per month being sent via the app. Stickers are also popular, as are the various WeChat groups including one dedicated to collecting the latest memes.

One happy user is Raz Gal-Ir, a young Israeli studying at Peking University and himself the founder of the expat-aimed man-in-the-street programme Y-Plan. His videos of interviews with foreign residents on the subject of collecting ‘hongbao’ envelopes are popular on the internet, with his account on Sina Weibo now attracting a million followers month by month. Raz is also an enthusiastic collector of the latest memes, with his Y-Plan partner Fang Yedun saying most foreigners in China are the same as Raz in their enthusiasm for more involvement in Chinese society.

WeChat’s massive success in China was mirrored by its popularity with Chinese expats living and working in Russia, with its instant messaging platform the most-used feature of the app. Unfortunately, it seems the Russian authorities weren’t as keen on the app as its users and, along with Messenger, Line and VChat, WeChat was banned. The reason for the ban, handed out by Russia’s Roskomnadzor telecommunications watchdog, was that the apps’ operators had not registered with the ‘appropriate authorities’. A WeChat spokesman told the media on Friday the company was ‘in contact with Russian agencies’.
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