Growing your product sense as a non-product manager: Part 2

The motivations behind WeChat and key concepts we should pay attention to while building a digital product.

Continuing from Part 1 of this two-part series, in this blog we dive into the WeChat ecosystem and explore the ideas behind Official Accounts, Mini-Programs, Mini-Games and WeChat as a social tool.

For Allen Zhang, he believes that there were two sources of motivation(“原动力”) behind WeChat. By his definition, motivation is the hope or consciousness deep in one’s inner-heart. It drives you to overcome obstacles and to achieve your end-goal.

The first source of motivation is for WeChat to be a dynamic product that adapts to the needs of an ever-changing society.

WeChat has always identified as a lifestyle app instead of being solely a communication app because Team WeChat did not want to limit the possibilities for expansion in the future. As WeChat developed over the years, it rolled out Group Chats, Moments, WeChat Pay, Red Packets, Official Accounts and Mini-Program features, gradually becoming part of its billions of users’ everyday life.

The second source of motivation is for WeChat to reflect the value of people who create value.

WeChat breaks information asymmetry and provides consumers and buyers with services of better quality than those of the pre-WeChat era. On the other end of the spectrum, WeChat gives small merchants, big retailers, bloggers, and value creators of all sizes an equal opportunity to closely engage with customers, which encourages them to improve on their service offerings and provide better value to their customers.

Take the OA platform as an example: we all know that emails can be sent in unlimited quantities, and that customers are often unhappy with the volume of email they receive from businesses. Since OA accounts are only able to send a certain number of communications per month to their subscribers, this conflict between Customers and Businesses has been resolved. Users are able to avoid unwanted messages and fraud from the Service Provider. On the other hand, services are still capable of communicating with their clients, but they have a greater incentive to focus on quality rather than quantity and share only concise and powerful messaging.

It is from these points that WeChat starts to demonstrate its advantages as a platform. In the second half of Allen Zhang’s talk, he mentions 3 concepts that caught my attention:

Create value

The WeChat platform is designed to provide value for all users: individual consumers like you and me as well as service providers & developers.

Whether connecting people to services or the other way around, the OA platform solves 2 problems:

  1. Removing information asymmetry for the receiver
  2. Bringing potential customers closer to service providers

For example, many blind masseuses are able to find customers through either an OA platform or a Mini-Program.

A good communication product is highly efficient. WeChat is dedicated to making interactions quick and efficient for users.

Whereas many apps are designed to maximize the time spent in-app, WeChat is designed to take up as little of the users’ time as possible - in other words to be maximally efficient. All of us only have 24 hours in a day; technology exists to make our lives more efficient, not consuming unnecessary amounts of time we should be spending on other tasks.

One example of this is that WeChat won‘t show read receipts, since the product team wants users to send the message and leave, not having to worry about things like the message delivery status or read status.

Have patience

Patience is another important factor for WeChat. As mentioned in Part 1, the WeChat team linked the natural growth curve with market validation. The same goes for Mini-Programs and Mini-Games.

Having patience means that your team is dedicated to building a product that serves a clear goal and provides a satisfactory experience for its users.

To build a healthy ecosystem, WeChat decentralized Mini-Programs. They determined that having a monopoly will never serve the whole system, instead becoming a closed system with no external developers.

And this process takes time. The initial announcement of Mini-Programs was in November 2016. It was not until June 2018 that they reached the milestone of 1 million Mini-Programs, signaling the steady growth of Mini-Programs that the team had been waiting for.

In the recent WeChat update, 即刻视频 (That’s It video) was launched as a new way to encourage users to record real time moments around them spontaneously. Designed to be the opposite of Moments, which is a conventional social feed. The WeChat team is patient about assessing the impact of this new feature as well. While they know that users are not yet used to it, they are betting on their belief that videos will replace photos in future communication.

Chase meaning, not KPIs

“The new challenge doesn’t come from our competitors, but comes from the level of users.”

When talking about the future of WeChat, Allen said that they have been thinking about how they are going to approach the next 8 years. When being asked the difference between WeChat and their competitors, Allen mentioned that they often ask themselves the meaning behind what they are doing, not how it will impact their KPIs.

If you only aim for an increase in traffic when building a new function, the function will not be sustainable because its value gets lost along the way. Having a clear purpose behind each function is crucial and will guide your team towards making the best possible decisions.

For instance, the WeChat team did not create Mini-Games for profit. Neither was it requested by Tencent. Profit follows when you make a good product and provide good services.

According to Allen, it is fundamentally a platform for creativity, and it helps creative people demonstrate their value.

Mini-Games are not simply small-sized game dressed up with a buzzword label. They should be creative in themselves, telling a story. The goal for Mini-Games is to see more people who have no game development skills to be able realize their creative visions. So even though a developer’s vision may not fit the general idea of what a game is, they are able to into a small niche within WeChat’s huge audience, making the Mini-Game platform valuable to these developers. This goes back to the second motivation of ‘create value’.

However, it is not an easy path. Every platform should have its own dream, if they don’t, they will soon turn themselves into a traffic-chasing machine. And when traffic runs out, it truly is game over.

I highly recommend our readers to watch the talk if your time allows, there is no better way to learn about a product than hearing from its creator, you will definitely learn something more than what I have mentioned here. At our upcoming April event, we will talk about data visualization and B2B product, come hang out and get inspired.

Posted on March 26, 2019 in Strategy

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