Chinese multi-purpose social media platform, WeChat, has hit one billion monthly users in February. Speaking at a media briefing, Tencent (WeChat's parent company) CEO Ma Huateng revealed it's the first time the app has crossed the milestone. The vast majority of WeChat users are based in China, where it's known as Weixin, and where the recent Lunar New Year boosted it past the milestone. The user numbers are up from 980 million in the third quarter of 2017.
This Chinese New Year saw more than 688 million WeChat users sending or receiving digital versions of hongbao, the traditional Chinese red packet containing cash and given as a gift during the new year. This spike in social media activity and messaging pushed the app past the 1 billion milestone for the first time.
WeChat, obviously China’s most popular social media app, began as a messaging app. But it quickly evolved into much more than that. At first glance, it does look and feel a bit like WhatsApp and Viber, but it lets users do much more than just communicate with their friends and family.
The biggest social network in China has wide range of features such as the ability to order food, hail a car, access bank services, file a police report, make a doctor's appointment, or find a date. The app even offers VoIP calling rates to landlines. This extensive range of features has made WeChat an integral part of the lives of many in China. The app's presence has also seen a growth in Southeast Asia, the Europe, and the United States, especially among Chinese immigrants who use the app to communicate with their families back home.
WeChat's dominance is also a result of the Chinese Government's laws that censors or blocks many other popular messaging apps. The Chinese government doesn’t like end-to-end encryption of messages, which has seen WhatsApp being completely blocked last year. LINE Messenger and Facebook also remain censored by the Government.
In December 2017, the government of Guangzhou, capital of the southern coastal province of Guangdong, started a pilot programme allowing citizens to carry a virtual ID card within the WeChat app which would have as much validity as state-issued ID cards. The trial will cover the entire province and expand across the country this year. If the program becomes successful, we might be very soon reporting about WeChat's another milestone.