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May 18, 2017

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WeChat’s greatest fans: foreigners

WECHAT says it has become a way of life for foreigners who come to China to study, work or start a business.

The nation’s most popular social media app says six out of 10 foreigners use WeChat Pay for food deliveries, transport, eating out and online shopping.

And, compared to typical Chinese users, they are more active on the app’s chat platforms, with 60 percent more foreign users sending messages through WeChat, 42 percent more using voice calls and 13 percent more using its video chat function.

Raz Gal-Or, a 22-year-old Israeli student at Peking University, said another finding of WeChat’s survey of millions of its users was that foreigners send 10 red envelopes, or hongbao, of virtual money every month on average.

“I might be the foreigner who sent the greatest number of red packets,” said Raz, who is co-founder and host of Y-plan, a man-in-the-street video program focused on foreigners in China.

He has interviewed many of them about whether they collect red envelopes and their experience in using stickers in WeChat groups.

His videos have been met with enthusiasm online. Y-plan’s Sina Weibo account has attracted more than a million followers in just four months.

Many foreigners speak fluent Chinese, the survey revealed, know every online Chinese buzzword and have joined hundreds of WeChat groups to grab hongbao.

Raz has joined a sticker group for collecting the latest memes. The survey showed that 45 percent more stickers are sent per day by foreigners than typical Chinese users.

Fang Yedun, Raz’s Chinese partner at Y-plan, said: “Foreigners living in China are just like Raz: they use WeChat payment, they grab red envelops, they each save at least 100 sets of stickers, and they all want deeper involvement in Chinese society. They love China.”

Raz’s father Amir Gal-Or has been in China for more than a decade and is a managing partner with Infinity Group. He invested in his son’s startup last year.

Raz pulled his family into a WeChat chat group and helped his father download Bilibili, a popular video app.

“If you considered Amir the image of a 1.0 edition foreigner in China, Raz may represent the 2.0 generation,” Fang said.

“Unlike his father, Raz and his peers consider China their second home. They live here, and they want to fight for the opportunities of the mobile Internet industry,” Fang said.

Another expat profiting from WeChat is 28-year-old American Drew Kirchoff. He said: “Expats came to China to be managers, or trainers to pass information from the West to China, but right now, most of them have been replaced by Chinese.”

He decided to start up a business within WeChat after seeing that almost every shop or vendor put up a piece of paper printed with a QR code “all of sudden.”

He created Yoli, an English teaching service embedded within WeChat. Students purchase courses on the mini app inside WeChat, and the language courses are completed through WeChat voice messages.

Fang said: “We can expect more global enterprises growing up in China with the participation of foreigners living in China. We can expect more innovations based on deep collaboration between the two groups.”



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