WeChat Is A Walled Garden – Does That Matter?

Tencent doesn’t like it when WeChat is called a walled garden, even though it has all the markings.

“This is a form of walled garden in the same way you have Facebook or Google,” said Jon Mansell, VP of marketplace innovation at Magna Global, during a panel hosted by Tencent at Advertising Week on Monday.

Media agencies, Mansell said, need access to exposure data in walled gardens without compromising user privacy. That scenario requires cross-platform communication between the walled gardens, including Google, Facebook, Tencent and others.

But Tencent apps like WeChat (963 million monthly active users, or MAUs) and instant messaging platform QQ (850 million MAUs) account for the majority of mobile internet usage in China and are responsible for 55% of mobile time spent among internet-connected Chinese citizens.

And because Facebook (and now WhatsApp) is banned in China, and many Google services are blocked, there isn’t any significant overlap between the China-dwelling users of Tencent’s app offerings and those of Facebook and Google.

“Chinese users in China are not using platforms in the US, they’re not on those products,” said Benny Ho, senior director of business development for Tencent’s International Business Group, noting that the same remains true when Chinese tourists visit the US where, last year, 132 million Chinese visitors spent around $35 billion.

“For brands, this really is a captive audience, even when they’re in the US or any other market,” said Ho, pointing to the suite of advertising tools Tencent introduced last week aimed at helping global advertisers reach Chinese tourists before, during and after trips abroad.

Part of WeChat’s strength, compared to its Western peers, is that its functionality is all-encompassing – including social commerce. In general, Tencent’s scale and massive usage stats give it rich insight into Chinese consumer behavior.

For that reason, the identifiers associated with WeChat and QQ are “recognized by the industry in China as the real ID,” said Steven Chang, corporate VP of Tencent’s Online Media Group.

“And we are providing this data in partnering with clients and agencies,” he said.

But Tencent has hard limits about what it will let marketers do.

“We are very open, but we follow the rules of our privacy policy,” Chang said. “We’re very strict in terms of how we use the data.”

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