WeChat Stories: Everything you need to know

Matthew Brennan Uncategorized

Full-screen short video Snapchat/Instagram style stories have finally made it to WeChat. In this article, I’m going to cover the update in two separate parts:

  1. A breakdown of how the new feature actually works
  2. An analysis of the implications for Tencent

You may wish to skip either part depending on what you are interested in.

WeChat Update 7.0

You can see from the update description above, WeChat officially calls this new feature “Time Capsules” but I’m just going to call it WeChat Stories because… well that’s what it is. The last time WeChat did a .0 version update was WeChat 6.0, four years ago! So yeah, this update is a big deal.

WECHAT STORIES: HOW THEY WORK

Disclaimer: Users who haven’t updated to 7.0 or above version (currently all Android users as of writing) will not be able to see or create WeChat stories. We can expect 7.0 Android to come out in the next few days.

WeChat Stories Groups

Where do I go to create my own WeChat Story?

  • Go to the ‘me’ tab and tap the camera icon in the top right corner or drag down on your profile picture. The feature will appear from the top of the screen.

Where can I see my friends WeChat Stories?

  • Any friend that posts a WeChat Story will have a tiny circle appear next to their profile picture in 1 on 1 chats, group chats and the moments newsfeed
  • A tiny circle will also appear on any of their comments and likes in moments.
  • For your contacts the circle will be blue, non-contacts will have a grey circle.
  • A circle will appear in the top right corner of WeChat group chat pages. Tapping on the circle will allow you to view the WeChat Stories of any group members who have published them.
  • When viewing stories from a WeChat group, stories from your contacts list will play first then non-contacts. You won’t see your own stories.
  • You can also find a collection of your own WeChat Stories under Me>My Posts>Time Capsule Videos

Notifications

  • When someone interacts with your WeChat Story you will get a red dot notification on the “Me” tab.
  • You can like a friend’s WeChat Story by tapping the bubble icon in the bottom left when viewing it. WeChat calls this “Blowing a bubble”. If you don’t blow a bubble, your friend won’t know you’ve viewed their story.
  • You can also leave a comment by long pressing the story. Only contacts can see comments.

Publishing

  • You can add stickers, text, and your location to your WeChat Story. 
  • Default sound is that of the original video which can be muted or music can be added.
  • You can shoot a video with your phone’s camera or you can select a video stored on your phone of up to 5 minutes in length, however it must be edited down to 10 seconds.
  • There is no option to limit or refine who can view your WeChat Stories like there is on moments posts.
  • WeChat Stories self destruct after 24 hours.
  • You can only create and publish 9 WeChat Stories per day.

Important Dynamic

Once a user posts a story that story will be accessible from any group they are a member of meaning their story will be exposed to far more people than just simply their own contacts. It’s common for Chinese adults to be involved in tens, even low hundreds of WeChat groups.

Only one thing is 100% sure right now. WeChat stories are certain to be heavily abused for purposes of self-promotion, sales, marketing, and adverts. 

Other updates

There’s been a major update to the UI design, see screenshots:

WeChat UI update

There also a big update in how WeChat articles can be discovered socially. The act of liking an article will mean it now appears in a list your contact’s “Top Stories” feature. This hopefully will prove to be an important new traffic source for WeChat articles and will also help drive more attention to the “Top Stories” newsfeed feature, WeChat’s competitor to Toutiao.

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ANALYSIS

WeChat is coming pretty late to the stories game. For much of 2017-18, we’ve seen them totally focused on building up the mini-programs platform, which might explain some of the lateness. Also worth noting that adding stories into the complex WeChat experience in a meaningful and impactful way without disruption of the existing ecosystem balance is tricky and not without risk.

But the real reason why we haven’t seen WeChat embrace moments to date is likely to be founder Alan Zhang’s insistence on positioning WeChat as a tool for productively and efficiency rather than one that tries to keep users coming back to waste time.

Allen Speech

“I have always stressed that WeChat is a tool, not a platform. Only tools are the most friendly and meaningful to users. WeChat has been trying to do one thing, to treat every user as a friend.” – Alan Zhang, Tencent Staff Meeting Dec 2018

Yet it’s likely that the pressure from Tencent head office to leverage WeChat to fight against Bytedance and their flagship short video platform Douyin (TikTok) is proving too much. With WeChat 7.0 we’ve finally seen WeChat make an indirect but bold move into short video.

Mary Meeker

Overall I’m pretty positive on how they’ve adapted the stories format to WeChat with this new update. I expect this feature to have a significant impact on WeChat usage habits, increasing stickiness and time spent in the app and negatively impacting consumption of other forms of short video in the China market. There will probably be some degree of cannibalization to traffic on the moments newsfeed also.

Stories have proven to be an immersive and engaging format across many different apps. The ephemeral nature of the format (24 hrs and they disappear) naturally drives users to return. The original innovation came from SnapChat who Tencent previously looked at acquiring and now own 17% of parent company Snap. 

The most important entry point for traffic into this new feature might be groups and 1on1 conversations, not the newsfeed (Interestingly Facebook also introduced stories into Facebook groups this month). Messaging is traditionally an inhospitable environment for monetization. From a platform owner’s perspective, it’s not simple to monetize chat conversations, you can’t put adverts in there without seriously disrupting the user experience. 

Tencent have done well with cracking this tough nut, firstly using lucky money in chat conversations as a way to kick-start WeChat Pay and secondly with sharing of mini-programs in groups as a way to foster e-commerce (e.g. Pinduoduo). Stories could be a third way to leverage the huge traffic of chat conversations as they can be monetized with ads and full-screen auto-play video ads at that; no wonder Facebook is trying to stuff stories everywhere they can.

Ad Formats

Above: Comparison of ad formats and screen real estate. Full-screen video compares well with traditional newsfeeds.

Tencent is conservative with ad inventory, so I expect it will be quite some time before we see ads in WeChat Stories (if ever), but certainly the potential is there for them to turn on the taps if need be. In the short to mid-term, the primary benefit will be increased stickiness and engagement mostly at the expense of competitors.

Tencent must know that chat conversations are the real key to both WeChat traffic and monetization. They might be reluctant to place more pressure on the newsfeed where traffic has been falling or official accounts that have also seen declines in page views. Chat conversations have incredibly high value to users and unlike in newsfeeds, Tencent’s position is highly resilient to competition. 

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EASTER EGG

What does the 7.0 splash screen mean?

WeChat 7.0 opens up to the following picture and music:

The text on the new splash screen reads因你看见,所以存在 “Because you saw it, so it exists.”  The song snippet is the opening of “In My Secret Life” by singer Leonard Cohen.

WeChat founder Allen Zhang is well known to have been a long time Leonard Cohen fan. Below is a picture of Allen’s old Chinese Twitter (FanFou 饭否) account gzallen (Guangzhou Allen) the avatar picture of which is taken from a Leonard Cohen 1979 album Recent Songs.

Fanfou Allen Zhang

Between June 2007 and April 2012 Allen tweeted 2,359 times on this account, one of which was at half past midnight a few weeks after WeChat 1.0 version was launched.

等我老了,我希望拥有leonard cohen的声音。

When I’m old I hope to have the voice of Leonard Cohen.

——2011-02-04 00:31