Interview: Louis Song, Tencent Inc.

WeChat, Tencent’s mobile voice and text messaging app, has made some significant headway in the local messaging scene, with local celebrities Lisa Surihani and Shaheizy Sam being brand ambassadors for Malaysia. Recently, to appeal to the global crowd, they have enlisted football player Lionel Messi to be its Global Ambassador, a first for the company. I speak to Louis Song, Tencent Inc.’s Country Manager for Malaysia and Singapore, regarding the Global Ambassador Program, as well as WeChat’s plans for Malaysia.

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Louis, you are Tencent’s Country Manager for Malaysia and Singapore. What are your responsibilities?

My job is to look for expansion opportunities for both countries, in line with WeChat’s plan to expand globally. We are also looking at corporate cooperation and business development opportunities.

Could you give a brief explanation as to what WeChat is?

WeChat is a user-friendly social mobile application. People usually communicate with voice or text, and Wechat provides both those functionalities under one mobile application. You can also find new friends as well as share social content with them. With our “Hold to Talk” feature, we make voice chat easier and more convenient.

What makes WeChat stand out from other services like LINE and Whatsapp?

We prides ourselves on WeChat’s user-friendliness as well as its unique features. To name a few, we have “Hold to Talk” feature for voice chat, and a “Shake” and “Look Around” feature to search for new friends.

You mentioned that WeChat went global last year, but when was it made official in Malaysia?

WeChat was made available in June 2012 internationally, but we had an official launch in Malaysia on April 2013, with our local brand ambassadors.

When did WeChat become popular with Malaysian consumers?

As you know, once we launch our mobile application to various marketplaces, like Google Play and the App Store, it becomes accessible to users all across the globe. Since Malaysia’s official launch, local users have been picking up WeChat. To accelerate, we have global and local campaigns. After our local TVC campaign, a lot of the Malay demographic have started to use WeChat.

How many WeChat users are there worldwide?

Earlier this month, the president of Tencent announced that we just passed 70 million WeChat users worldwide.

How many Malaysian users are among the 70 million users?

We don’t disclose local numbers, but we can say that WeChat has a 70% penetration rate amongst local smartphone users.

Why is it so well-received in Malaysia?

From a product angle, WeChat is easy to use. People will only use the product if it is user-friendly, and that is our advantage. Our promotional campaigns also contributed to WeChat’s popularity.

Could you provide more details on your Global Ambassador Program?

Earlier this month, we endorsed football player Lionel Messi to be our brand ambassador globally. After the reveal, we saw a lot more new users, as well as higher activity from current users.

Why did you decide to start this program, when you already have local brand ambassadors?

After collaborating with several local celebrities, we saw the need for a global icon. Messi is a well-known name, and we wanted someone who has global appeal.

You mentioned having local brand ambassadors alongside the global one. Can you list some of them?

Our local brand ambassadors include Lisa Surihani and Shaheizy Sam, both of whom are popular Malaysian celebrities. They are well-known by the younger generation, while WeChat is one of the more popular communication apps out there. We share some common ground. Lisa has a prominent fanbase in WeChat, and she interacts with her fans frequently. That is the main difference that sets WeChat apart: Lisa can approach her fans personally, and her fans can communicate with her.

What is the company’s direction in Malaysia?

WeChat is a mobile social platform, but it doesn’t stop there. The platform is open, and our API is available for developers to make content. Some features can be implemented via plugins.

Could you give examples of WeChat implementation?

Sure! In China, we cooperate with banks, airlines and hotels. With WeChat, they can provide a unique service to users. Right now, they can use WeChat to perform transactions and book hotel rooms. We are discussing with several local parties, and we hope to see these features available to Malaysian users.

You mentioned all these features, and most of them require some private information. How is the user’s privacy secured?

We do not collect any private information from the user, besides gender and nationality. For the third-party features like mobile banking, it lies with the content provider to provide security.