China’s WeChat has cracked the billion global accounts club.
According to Pony Ma, the chief executive of Tencent, the firm that owns WeChat and its payment platform, the new accounts threshold was hit during the Chinese New Year celebrations last month.
The figure notably refers to user accounts, not users — or monthly active users, which is generally the metric the firm refers to when talking about how many users it has. WeChat users, for example, often have more than one account (for personal vs professional use). This figure, however, is counting accounts — not users.
Speaking specifically of accounts, however, the company reported annual growth in WeChat user accounts of 15.8 percent last September.
WeChat has become a popular venue for all kinds of activities beyond social media interactions. Chinese consumers use the service as a substitute for email, to shop, make bill payments, book travel, and blogs, as well as being host to a universe of other apps. WeChat launched a beta version of a new shopping platform last week.
According to Financial Times reports, Chinese users often jokingly call WeChat a public utility.
“Much of the growth in [accounts] is likely to have come from overseas, in south-east Asia, Europe and the U.S,” said Matthew Brennan, founder of WeChat-focused consultancy ChinaChannel.
Its use, however, is still likely concentrated among Chinese nationals, who use the service to keep in touch with home while on the road — or to shop while they are traveling — as the service continues to make headway in markets outside of its home nation of China.
That growth, however, has been strongly limited by the competing social platforms outside of China — especially the Facebook-owned WhatsApp. WhatsApp, by comparison, reached 1.3bn monthly active users worldwide as of last summer.
The possibility of censorship and privacy violations on WeChat has also made expansion slow going, according to the FT.