Up until early August WeChat provided its chat platform to Alibaba as a partner, until it got dropped by the online trading portal, which has now revealed its own platform for users.
While the WeChat model has been to provide free chat services to businesses and individuals, the platform is also evolving. The newest version boasts monetised features like a game centre, sticker shop, mobile payments and barcode scanning for e-commerce transactions.
However the platform – which has accumulated 400 million users since its birth two years ago – has yet to flush out a cohesive plan for e-commerce, its intentions are obvious.
Meanwhile Alibaba's platform has the advantage of letting Sina Weibo users directly trade on its service.
Ben Woo, director of Hong Kong based agency Pixo Punch, said the reason why WeChat has thrived so quickly is because it doesn’t have any competition on the mainland, unlike Hong Kong.
“There’s Line, Whatsapp, WeChat and the VoIP applications in Hong Kong, and how people choose to use them is based on what their friends use. In China, however, there’s only WeChat,” he said, adding that the use of the Tencent app on the mainland is already much more sophisticated compared to Hong Kong.
China Southern Airlines’ account, for example, allows flyers to check in directly while Durex’s WeChat helps men with pick up lines when they’re stuck.
“WeChat is an opened platform, which allows brands to build their programme within, so users can access all of these brands within one app.”
However, though China’s mobile space is a monopoly, its social media platform is a fragmented mess with hubs like RenRen.com, Kaixin web, as well as a mélange of local and regional forums.
In light of this dichotomy of the social media versus m-commerce scene in China, this new battle between Tencent and Alibaba may indicate something bigger: with an 84-percent mobile penetration on the mainland, marketers may be skipping the traditional social media offerings – at least ones that predominantly rely on the second screen – and leap directly to the mobile space.
Whether this is a classic case of running before learning how to walk or a wake up call to pay more attention to mobile, one thing is clear: China requires a completely new set of rules, and marketers better get ready for it.