WeChat’s latest money-making schemes: celebrity wake-up calls and app-enabled vending machines

Would you pay for a wake-up call from this guy?
Would you pay for a wake-up call from this guy?
Image: AP Photo/Francois Mori)
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The social messaging app WeChat and its 236 million users has driven parent company Tencent’s stock market valuation north of $100 billion, but it’s not clear how Asia’s biggest technology firm will turn WeChat’s growing audience into actual profits. Even though WeChat is becoming a full-fledged social network like Twitter and Facebook, the company has said that it has no interest in running advertising, citing bandwidth constraints and the small size of mobile phone screens.

Tencent laid the groundwork for monetizing WeChat, also known as Weixin in China, with an August update that added payment services and the ability to buy virtual items like stickers. And the company is slowly adding new features designed to lighten its customers’ virtual wallets.

Last week’s rollout was a new service that lets users pay 18 yuan ($2.94) a month for extra content from celebrities like Chinese actor Chen Kun—pre-recorded wake-up greetings, diary entries, photos and the like.

This week the revenue enhancer is WeChat-enabled vending machines, which let users pay for bottled drinks from within the chat app for a 1 yuan ($0.16) discount. There are hundreds of the machines scattered throughout Beijing’s massive subway stations.

To pay for goodies like wake-up messages and discounted soda, users link their bank accounts to Tenpay, the company’s online payment system. Tencent is reportedly to follow its rival Alibaba by launching an online investment product through Tenpay, so every user that signs up could pay dividends down the line. Instead of “The new way to connect,” maybe WeChat’s slogan should be “come for the vending machines, stay for the financial services.”