After its news feed fumble, Facebook is not the world’s most valuable social media company

Something to chat about.
Something to chat about.
Image: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Chinese social media giant Tencent, best known for the messaging app WeChat, has surpassed Facebook’s market value, and this time has held on to the lead for at least seven days of trading. The company briefly passed Facebook’s valuation in November.

According to Bloomberg, at market close on Jan. 22, Nasdaq-listed Facebook was valued at $540 billion. Meanwhile, Tencent, listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, was valued at $555 billion as of Hong Kong afternoon trading hours on Jan. 22. On Tuesday Tencent closed higher, reaching a market cap  at 4.45 trillion Hong Kong dollars (about US$569 billion).

The minor milestone came after Mark Zuckerberg announced Jan. 11 that the company was planning to tweak News Feed to de-emphasize news articles. The announcement promptly caused a sell-off—shares declined 4% the day after. That gave Tencent’s market value a lead over Facebook’s, which it has since maintained. Facebook’s latest tweak to it news feed comes as the company faces political pressure to respond to concerns about fake news and foreign influence on the platform.

It’s more than four years since Tencent was able to hold a lead over Facebook. Back in 2013, Tencent was valued above Facebook for about two months starting in mid-May, a year after the US company went public. Then the US company’s mobile push helped its valuation cross $100 billion later that summer, and then $200 billion in 2014. Tencent reached a $200 billion valuation only in 2015. Last November, though, Tencent did briefly nip ahead of Facebook, but Facebook eclipsed it (paywall) upon market close during New York trading hours later the same day.

While WeChat’s cultural influence in China is akin to that of Facebook in other countries, Tencent’s business model is quite different from Facebook’s. Whereas the latter company makes the bulk of its revenue from advertising, most of Tencent’s sales come from games. And while WeChat remains a powerful tool for news and media distribution, ads from the app make up a only a small percentage of Tencent’s revenue.

News is also not a major part of its future. Last week, at an annual developer conference for WeChat, the company touted its growing “mini-programs” business (these act like standalone apps, kept inside of WeChat), as well as its ability to integrate with offline retail. “Friend’s Circle,” meanwhile, WeChat’s closest analog to Facebook’s News Feed, has been very slow to roll out ads for its users. It’s also more “closed” than Facebook’s News Feed, with fewer ways for a single piece to go viral among large groups of users.

That’s not to say that politics haven’t hurt Tencent’s stock price in the past. Last summer, when state media outlet People’s Daily published an article calling Tencent’s popular mobile game Honor of Kings “poison,” its stock price dropped 4%, shaving $14 billion from its market value. In the US, public companies answer to the public, but in China, they answer to the party as well.