Should WeChat Watch Out for LINE?

    WeChat may be China's hottest social app for now, but it clearly has its eye on Japanese counterpart LINE, whose Chinese-language version is becoming increasingly popular.
    Jing Daily
    Jasmine LuAuthor
      Published   in Technology

    Since its launch in 2011, Tencent WeChat has taken its home turf by storm, growing so quickly that its name is now an interchangeable term for “social app” in China. Last December, WeChat’s Japanese counterpart—the smash-hit social app LINE—launched its Chinese version Lian Wo (“link me”, 连我) in China, going head to head with WeChat.

    It is not an unfounded speculation that LINE could become WeChat’s biggest rival. Just four months since its launch in the country, the Japanese app climbed its way up to the first place among the top free apps in Apple’s China App Store in early April. The two apps are now the most rapidly growing social networks in the globe—WeChat’s year-to-year growth is 500 percent, and LINE’s is 200 percent—according to an Intelligence Report by L2 Think Tank.

    A closer look at WeChat and LINE’s similarities will perhaps give us more ideas on how the competition is heating up between these two apps in China:

    The use of strong ties.#

    Both WeChat and LINE users can create accounts using their mobile phone numbers and import contacts from their phone’s contact lists. Unlike Facebook, which creates weak social ties, these two apps effectively exploit circles of strong ties built chiefly among close friends and family members. Users are perhaps more interested in tapping on phone notifications for social app programs like WeChat and LINE rather than on those for Facebook because they know notifications from either green icon mean hellos from their “real” friends rather than some guy they used to work with “liking” a photo.

    Ideal for B2C marketing.#

    Both WeChat and LINE have “subscription accounts”—a feature for brands to directly engage customers and for celebrities to interact with fans. As Alexis Bonhomme from Curiosity China Limited noted, this “exclusive communication” feature “encourages brands to have a strong CRM policy by first connecting online through the subscription account in order to influence e-commerce and offline brick-and-mortar retail performance.” According to L2, many luxury brands have already seen the marketing potential of subscription accounts on both WeChat and LINE—but WeChat is way ahead right now. Nearly 20 percent of the luxury brands analyzed by L2 Think Tank have accounts on WeChat, including Clarins and Coach, while two percent are on LINE, including Clinique and Uniqlo.

    LINE's default interface.

    Similar features.#

    You can expect to do almost everything you can on WeChat on LINE as well. Like WeChat, LINE provides various communicative functions: calls, messages, voice messages, photo and video sharing, group chat, newsfeed (“Moments” on WeChat; “Timeline” on LINE), location sharing, and emoticons. For people-finding features, users of both apps can exchange account IDs, invite friends via QR code, or simply shake their devices together (“Shake” on WeChat; “Shake it!” on LINE). While large-scale illustrated emoticons called “stickers” used to be LINE’s signature, WeChat followed suit by launching its sticker shop on August 5, showing that it’s definitely keeping a close eye on LINE. In addition, both apps are available on computers for complete accessibility.

    However, WeChat and LINE also come with significant differences: while LINE is far ahead of WeChat in terms of gaming and entertainment functions, WeChat boasts more practical features. With each side striving to play catch-up to the others’ strengths, WeChat will have to extend considerable effort to stay at the top of its game:

    LINE boasts more entertainment features.#

    With a myriad of related apps heavy on original cartoon characters—including games such as LINE Pop, LINE Bubble, LINE Play, LINE Jelly, and LINE WIND runner, and utilities such LINE Card (a greeting card creator), LINE Camera (the Japanese Instagram), LINE Brush (a drawing tool), and LINE Tools (everyday utilities)—LINE is undoubtedly much more of a social-entertainment platform than WeChat. WeChat has only just started to catch up with LINE’s gaming aspects, launching its first game last week. In addition to the large apps family, another LINE feature that has conquered Chinese users’ hearts, but has not yet been seen on WeChat, is its “themes” for the user interface, which come stuffed with cute cartoon characters that have proven extremely popular with users.

    LINE's themed interface with entertainment features.

    WeChat possesses more practical tools.#

    LINE and WeChat have almost all communicative functions in common besides one—video chat. WeChat allows users to talk face-to-face and switch between video chat and audio chat, while LINE only supports audio chat. As for everyday tools, WeChat users can now integrate bank accounts with the app using its payment function and make purchases in the e-commerce market. WeChat also has a powerful scanner that can recognize a word and translate it, or can provide a street-view service.

    With its rapid growth, various functions, and attractive interface, LINE definitely has the potential of becoming both WeChat’s biggest competitor and the next social app that brands will be flocking to.

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