WeChat receives a fair amount of attention from the English-language press for its grasp on China’s mobile messaging market, its steady forays into ecommerce, and its strategic importance to parent company Tencent. But one of the app’s most overlooked qualities is its role as a hub for online media. News outlets, small businesses, and solo bloggers alike will push posts through their subscription accounts, and the app even features a simple but effective “read it later” feature.
That’s why WeChat’s most recent beta-test is worth watching. Yesterday Chinese tech blog 36kr spotted some additions to WeChat’s article viewing functionality. When users tap on a news story (or blog post, or any form of written content), a metric appears at the top of the piece revealing the number of people that have read it.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the article, readers can press a “like” button (dianzan) if they so desire.
Tech in Asia reached out to Tencent for comment on the new feature, and a spokeswoman told us that the features remain beta tests for the moment. However, as we peruse our own roster of subscription accounts, it seems the WeChat team has implemented the metrics for nearly every account that uses the app for publishing purposes.
WeChat will beta test new features quite frequently, but there’s good reason to believe that these visible metrics will be here to stay. Businesses in China use WeChat’s subscription accounts for marketing, and making these figures visible to the public means that social media teams can compare their content’s performance compared to that of the competition (that wouldn’t be possible if WeChat only provided these analytics privately). Media organizations can do the same to assess the popularity of their work. In addition, casual observers – people like you and me, for example – can look at an article and immediately know how popular it is and how many people “liked” it. That’s kind of cool.
Of course, metrics like these aren’t known for their accuracy when it comes to social media in China. The Twitter-esque Sina Weibo is known to be a playground where fake followers send out fake retweets. WeChat, meanwhile, for all its glory, isn’t immune to these pitfalls either – search for the official account for your favorite clothing brand and it’s likely you’ll hit ten fake accounts listed alongside the real one.
Even so, for brands, readers, and internet folks like ourselves, the introduction of reader counts and a “Like” button ought to come as welcome additions to the media side of WeChat.
Okay, so it kind of looks like Facebook’s own Like button. But are we going to argue over a shade of blue, for a feature that’s officially in beta-testing? Or should we tip our hat to Facebook (or Roger Ebert? Or the Homo Habilis? Or Sina Weibo, which also has a like button?) for popularizing the thumbs-up-as-social-media-engagement-tool and leave it at that? Your answer will likely depend on how tired you are of reading about so-called “copycat” Chinese firms. File under: let it slide.