How WeChat, China’s social media colossus, can get bigger still if smartphones are used more for work, survey shows

Report presented at CES Asia in Shanghai quotes survey showing only 28 per cent of smartphone owners use them for work, showing potential for dominant social media platform to grow if job-related handset usage rises

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 1:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 2:52pm

Can WeChat possibly get bigger than it already is in mainland China? A new study released at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Asia in Shanghai this week suggests there is still room for growth. It also confirms just how big online shopping has become in China.

According to “Digital Lifestyles in China”, released by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), despite the mobile phone app reaching saturation point – with 889 million monthy active users – WeChat has yet to infiltrate people’s professional lives.

The report shows that while 96 per cent of those surveyed use smartphones for personal interactions, that dips spectacularly to only 28 per cent for work purposes. There are similar statistics for tablet users.

WeChat is top workplace communications app for 90 per cent of Chinese professionals

“Social media is all about personal life in China,” says Steve Koenig, senior director of market research at the CTA. “Chinese people draw a line between their personal and professional engagement on social media – there’s a separation you don’t see in other parts of the world.

“Elsewhere in the world social media platforms like Facebook are cross-pollinated by business pages. That’s not the case in China, where just 28 per cent use social media for professional purposes.”

The findings also note that up to 75 per cent of people in China use desktop PCs for work.

“A lot of these devices are used interchangeably elsewhere, no matter whether the endeavour is personal or professional, to check e-mail and Facebook. In China we see strong engagement across these ‘hub’ devices for personal use,” says Koenig.

“But when it comes to professional activities, it’s really only business products like the core PC products like laptops and desktop PC that are used.”

The CTA report was compiled using online surveys from more than 3,000 smartphone-owning adults in major cities in China (excluding Hong Kong).

In the span of just a decade, China has developed and deployed a world-class online services sector, and Chinese consumers have fully embraced it
Steve Koenig, CTA

The study includes data on the accessing of foreign social media and streaming video sources. Despite Facebook being blocked by China’s firewall, the CTA reports significant use of the social media network by mainland Chinese.

“Facebook also showed up in our survey, ostensibly accessed through VPNs, which was interesting to us,” says Koenig. However, the data show that only a quarter of Facebook users in China are constantly checking it, with just as many users only logging in once a week.

WeChat still reigns supreme as the most popular – and addictive – social media network among Chinese, beating platforms such as Weibo, Jingwei and Weishi, the report says. WeChat – more often known as weixin in China – is used to send instant messages, buy movie tickets, pay utility bills, as well as for other services that make people’s personal lives more convenient.

“There is a very high level of engagement, with 86 per cent checking WeChat multiple times a day,” says Koenig. “None of the other services that we studied came close.”

Only 44 per cent and 41 per cent of Weibo and Jingwei users, respectively, have such loyalty, he adds

The CTA report also contains data on online shopping. It says 60 per cent of consumers buy at least one product online each week, while 48 per cent say they purchase all the products they want.

China’s online retail sales to double in three years, analysts say

“We knew this would be huge, but we wanted some data to wrap around it, and our research confirmed that China is like nowhere else in the world when it comes to online retail,” says Koenig.

Favourite destinations include, TMall, Suning and DangDang.

“It’s happening overnight in China – in the span of just a decade, China has developed and deployed a world-class online services sector, and Chinese consumers have fully embraced it,” says Koenig.

Not surprisingly, 88 per cent of online purchases were made on a smartphone (and, oddly, just 33 per cent on a tablet), and 50 per cent of those using a store’s own app.

CES is organised by the Consumer Technology Association and was held outside of the US for the first time in Shanghai two years ago as CES Asia.