"WeChat is a lifestyle" - the powerful social media app, WeChat, has cleverly summarised Chinese people's life into one app. What is it about WeChat that has captured the Chinese population? I’ve complied WeChat’s founder, Xiao Long Zhang’s thoughts below for those who are interested in finding out more:
(For those who don't know what WeChat is, you can watch the video at the bottom of this page for a quick overview of its basic functions.)
1. The best user experience = intuition
You should shed all assumptions and prior knowledge when designing a new product. The best experience is one that's most human, natural and intuitive.
If your app relies on pop up tips to explain basic functions, then you've failed. You would've put off at least one user who's too lazy or busy to read them! Is simplicity enough though? No. Windows allows users to use "Alt+Tab" to switch between applications. It's simple, but it's not an ideal user experience. Humans aren't wired to do it naturally. In contrast, if you give a 4-year-old child an iPad, she'll successfully do the same function using her fingers.
Similarly, the WeChat Shake function (search for users who are shaking their phones at the same time as you) is intuitive. Users will intuitively shake their phones after seeing a simple hand image on the landing page. They'll then be rewarded with an exciting sound. This experience gives users a sense of fun. Again it links to our most basic human instincts.
2. Whatever you do, please please make sure it’s fun.
Usefulness alone is not enough to persuade someone to try out your product. The money and time saved will be spent on something else anyway. What users are looking for is excitement.
Zhang once tried to convince a group of female attendees at a gathering to install WeChat. He highlighted the benefits of free text, image and voice messages but no one was interested. Zhang then did a live demonstration of the “People Nearby” function and said there were many women nearby that he could connect with. Drawn in by their curiosity and desire for excitement, the group immediately installed the app.
Zhang's shocked to find people were after a sense of excitement and fun. It's an experience, and it’s a lot easier for users to share than the functions of your product within social circles.
3. We crave validation
During the launch period, the WeChat team was worried that the Shake function would create a lot of inconvenience for female users. However, Zhang's surprised to find that female colleagues were secretly comparing the number of new contacts they’d got. Female users are not necessarily interested in meeting new people. They're using the app to validate their level of attractiveness through the number of “hellos’ they’ve received.
Similarly, Weibo allows users to show off, to feel connected and, whether they realise it or not, to construct an alternative reality and self-image.
4. Don’t live in a lie. Instead, fail fast.
A lot of products rely on heavy marketing at the initial stage to boost user numbers, but abuse of this could be misleading for strategy development. If the increase in numbers is not organic but pulled in by heavy marketing, you might be misled into thinking that your product's "great" when in fact it’s just mediocre and not worth any further investment. Once the initial hype is over, people will realise that they don’t need your product.
After the launch of WeChat 1.0, the team released the app to around 100,000 users. The team then checked if these users were generating organic growth for the app through word of mouth and product demonstration. This way the team was able to tell whether WeChat was genuinely a great product that’s worth investing more time and money into.
5. Long-term planning is overrated
It’s nearly impossible to predict how a big group of users will interact with a product. Instead of having a long-term strategic plan, it’s way wiser to implement, respond and adapt. Your product should be a facilitator with simple rules that has lots of room for users to define the meaning of their interactions with the product and other users.
6. The “1000, 100 and 10” rule
Statistical analysis is important but there's too much room for error. People are limited by previous experiences and their scope of imagination. Product managers’ task is to predict the next big thing and show consumers useful solutions that are beyond their imagination. Zhang recommends reading a variety of blogs and short posts, especially those belonging to distant social circles, to stay ahead of the curve. He recommends his colleagues to follow the "1000, 100 and 10" habit, i.e. read 1000 short posts, 100 blogs and work on 10 customer engagement projects every week.
7. Don’t try to please everyone
It's natural to want to meet every customer’s request. However, if you try to please everyone, you might end up alienating a large number (if not the majority) of your users.
Some instant messaging apps have introduced delivered/seen and a last seen status update in response to user requests. WeChat didn't follow suit. It wants to give people a chance to be human.
The status information has confined human communication and relationships to a rigid framework that's unforgivable to lies and omissions. Human interaction, on the other hand, is fluid and unpredictable. For example, it’s very common to hear people say “oh I must have missed the message” or “it might not have gone through”. Seeing human behaviour as akin to that of robots is not necessarily a good (nor a popular) thing.
These are the seven reasons that help WeChat become the most popular social media app in China. Of course there're many other factors which I haven't got a chance to cover in this post. If you can think of any, please feel free to comment below.
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Read more: The Death of Apps?