This week, the Microsoft co-founder and multibillionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is join WeChat to reach an even bigger audience.
The billionaire posted a 30-second video on his official account “gatesnotes” with a short sentence in Chinese welcoming viewers and describing in English the channel’s focus, which Gates said will act as a personal blog with posts about the books he is reading and other thoughts. The video has accumulated more than 100,000 views and 23,300 likes as of February 15.
Gates’ introduction video to the service didn’t involve him dressing up as Austin Powers, but it did include a 12-word welcome in Mandarin. “Hello,” begins Gates in Chinese, before announcing “welcome to my official WeChat account.” Gates revealed in a previous Reddit AMA that he regretted never learning a foreign language, so his attempt at Mandarin have fascinated internet commenters and even The Wall Street Journal.
Gates is planning to publish his English blog in Chinese through WeChat under the “gatesnotes” handle. It’s a new way to reach a massive online audience, especially as Facebook and Twitter are both blocked in China. If you’re a little more fluent in Mandarin than Gates, you can follow his musings over on his official WeChat account.
Celebrities frequently use Chinese social media apps to connect with their overseas fan base. Gates created an account on Weibo, a popular microblogging website, in 2010 and has more than 3 million followers. Apple CEO Tim Cook and physicist Stephen Hawking also maintain profiles on the website.
Tencent, one of China’s largest tech companies, launched WeChat in 2011 as a messaging app. Over time it evolved into a payment platform that is rivaling Alibaba’s behemoth financial payment system, Alipay. Now, users can do everything from pay their electricity bill and order a taxi to buy movie tickets and write a restaurant review – all without ever leaving WeChat.
“Tencent has been very clever about understanding what people need on a daily basis and what their key consumption interests are,” said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting, a Beijing-based market research firm that focuses on telecommunications and IT.
To keep users in its ecosystem for even longer, the company released “mini programs” last month which act as apps within the platform. Rather than downloading an app from an external source like the Apple App store or the Google Play store, users can run them within WeChat. Google has begun testing a similar program with Android Instant Apps where users can run a company’s software without installing the actual app on their device.
The mini programs – dubbed after Apple raised concerns over the use of the word app – have been met with mixed success. A recent study found that 65% of the WeChat mini program users returned to the original mobile app, Natkin said.
Despite its initial lackluster success, if improved the initiative could rival Apple to become one of the largest app distributors in China. Analysts were quick to note the program’s launch coincided with the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. Should the mini programs succeed users will have even fewer reasons to leave the WeChat ecosystem.