For years, I’ve maintained that Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, Inc., has had his eye on a singular goal: becoming the global version of China’s WeChat. WeChat is China’s most popular messaging app, with 1 billion monthly users. China’s population is 1.4 billion people, which means approximately two in three Chinese are on WeChat. But WeChat is so much more than a messaging app: In addition to messaging and photo sharing, users can schedule appointments, manage finances, pay friends and businesses, order car services, book flights, and shop — just to name a few capabilities.
Zuckerberg wants to keep users inside the Facebook, Inc. walls (inclusive of its apps, services, and hardware) for as long as possible. In Zuckerberg’s company manifesto posted yesterday, he adds to a list of moves attempting to inch Facebook, Inc. toward WeChat’s super-app status:
- Acquiring and/or integrating capabilities on top of its core social networking functionality, including P2P payments, ordering Uber car services, making dinner reservations via Open Table, etc.
- Offering its Internet.org initiative/Facebook Free Basics product to developing countries to serve as the portal to the internet, encouraging these citizens to become users and spend time inside Facebook, Inc.’s apps while tracking their activity.
- Unifying and standardizing the underlying code across Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram direct messaging so that users can have a single messaging experience from any of Facebook, Inc.’s apps.
- And, finally, overtly rebranding as a messaging app yesterday.
But there’s a key difference between Facebook, Inc. and WeChat: government oversight. Facebook, Inc.’s “privacy-focused vision” comes with a backdrop of looming privacy regulation and antitrust complaints from Europe and the US. WeChat operates in a Communist and intrusive government that allows monopolies. Zuckerberg can’t have his cake and eat it, too: He is trying to strike an impossible balance between growing users and time spent in-app to fuel more advertising dollars while also trying to build a singular “privacy-first experience” to appease privacy regulators, all under a cloud of potential anticompetition breakups that could reduce the company’s services.
For marketers, don’t panic just yet. In the short term, your ad targeting won’t be impacted, but you may find it more challenging to engage with customers on Facebook, Inc.’s messaging apps. In the long term, marketers have to track two things: 1) if Zuckerberg’s enforcement of his privacy vision comes at the expense of ad hyper-targeting; and 2) if the inevitable new features he rolls out to emulate WeChat will include new ad opportunities.
There will be more on this topic in my upcoming “The Future Of Facebook” report, to publish in early Q2 2019.