This article was originally created in March 2017. Since then, various changes have been made to WeChat Mini Programs, which have led us to update this article in September 2018.
Before we talk about Mini Programs, it’s important to know exactly what they are and what they do. Tencent, the Chinese tech giant that operates WeChat (and also QQ), added mini programs to their applications last year. These mini programs essentially operate like a separate mobile app, except that they function within another larger app. WeChat started out as a very basic messaging app and has now become a full ecosystem with more than 1 billion monthly users. This article, however, is not about the specificities of WeChat itself, so if you are still learning the ropes of WeChat, we recommend starting with this article here first.
So let's get onto the Mini Programs, which were launched by Tencent back in January 2017.
What Is a Mini Program?
Mini Programs are small applications that function within WeChat. When they were first launched they were technically more basic than a standard native APP. However, now in 2018, since Tencent opened more APIs for developers, they are now quite similar to a native APP in terms of their complexity.
When you use Mini Programs, you’ll see that they function like normal mobile phone apps. Tencent refers to them as “Mini Programs” due to a dispute with Apple over the use of the term “app”, however, the term “Mini App” is sometimes used when talking about these programs.
Mini Programs are not available in any kind of app store, so if you want to find one, you will have to search for it on WeChat, scan a QR code from a street advertisement, receive it within a WeChat group or from a friend, or find it linked to a WeChat Official Account.
What Are The Advantages Of Mini Programs?
Mini Programs are very light, and there is no need to download them to your phone. You can access them anywhere, anytime, and if you no longer need or want one of your Mini Programs, all you have to do is delete it from your WeChat, by simply pressing and holding down on the Mini Program you wish to delete, which is as simple as deleting a message.
Moreover, you can access all the Mini Programs you use and the ones you have pinned by simply going to your Chats page and sliding open a drop-down menu at top of the screen (see screenshot below).
The WeChat Mini Programs are on Tencent’s servers, so their loading speed is swift and efficient.
As explained previously, there are few different ways to find these Mini Programs, one of which is to link them to a WeChat Official Account. A WeChat Official Account can be linked to several Mini Programs. You can also find them within a group Chat (you will be able to see all the Mini Programs that have been shared in your group). Finally, you can also find them by searching in the Search WeChat Search Engine.
Another way to share your Mini Programs is to forward them to one of your contacts or to a chat group. As you can see below, the layout/visual of the Mini Program is much more attractive than just a simple link.
From a marketing perspective, Mini Programs have a captive audience, and they work with every OS supporting WeChat. Indeed, in less than a year the time spent on WeChat Mini Programs went from 1.6 minutes per day to 9.8 minutes.
Another interesting point is that the biggest companies with a Mobile/Native APP also have a WeChat Mini Program. By combining both, they have a perfect match. For instance, 54.7% of JD.com Mini Program users come from Tier 3 or smaller cities, against only 43.7% of Mobile APP users. This means that users from second or third tier cities are more likely to use the company’s Mini Program rather than the company’s Mobile APP.
This data suggests that users in tier 3 or 4 cities gained access to the internet and WeChat later than users in tier 1 cities. It may also be because Mini Programs arrived later as well, meaning that users in tier 3 or 4 cities discovered all the technology (WeChat and Mini Programs) at more or less the same time, and favour the idea of using Mini Programs rather than the Native APP.
To strengthen the previous point, 50% of the top WeChat Mini Programs in all industries also have an equivalent Mobile APP. This figure is even higher in e-commerce and lifestyle services, where more than 80% of the top 100 WeChat Mini Programs have a Native APP.
We can see from this data that users of WeChat Mini Programs are more likely to spend smaller amounts on WeChat Mini Programs (less than 1,000 RMB). For purchases higher than 1,000 RMB, users tend to use the Mobile APP instead.
Therefore, based on this information, it may be worthwhile for companies to focus on targeting Mini Program users in third-tier cities and lure them onto their Mini Programs with attractive and affordable products.
What Are The Limitations Of Mini Programs?
Here’s what we’ve found so far:
The size of a Mini Program is only 10 MB (however the pictures, videos and sounds can be hosted on a server and are not included in this 10 MB size).
WeChat is quite restrictive on incentivized sharing. That's why incentivized sharing on WeChat Mini Games has been restricted. So sharing with your friends is the most common way to get new users
In addition, users and official accounts cannot share Mini Programs on their WeChat Moments, which is the WeChat user’s news and social networking feed. The sharing function is limited to group and individual chats.
At the time of writing the original article, it was not possible to create games on WeChat Mini Programs. However, since April 2017 it has now been possible to do so. Within just 3 weeks, around 300 WeChat Mini Games were developed!
What Is The Difference Between Mini Programs And Official Accounts?
The main difference between Mini Programs and Official Accounts is that users subscribe to an official account to receive news and info from that company, meaning there is an ongoing relationship between an official account and its followers. Mini Programs do not foster this same relationship, as users can just scan a QR code on one single occasion in order to use the program.
What Is The Difference Between Mini Programs And Mobile Apps?
As already mentioned, there is no need to download the Mini Programs to your phone, and you won’t find them in any app store. There’s also a difference in the development costs. The cost to develop a Mini Program is usually cheaper than developing a native app.
What Are The Most Popular Mini Programs?
Early/mid 2017 the most accessed Mini Programs were:
1. Hangzhou Plus – HZPlus
2. McDonald’s Discount Coupons - 麦当劳优惠券
3. Tencent Surveys - 腾讯投票
4. Mobike - 摩拜单车
5. Sleepy Sounds - 小睡眠
Scan this QR code to try the Sleepy Sounds Mini Program:
Just over a year and half after writing the first article, the most popular Mini Programs have changed: (rankings as of September 10th 2018).
6. 跳一跳 (Classification: Game)
7. 同程艺龙酒店机票火车 (Classification: Trip)
8. 京东购物 – JD (Classification: Game)
9. 欢乐斗地主 (Classification: Game)
10. 海盗来了 (Classification: Game)
What Does The Future Look Like For Mini Programs?
Mini Programs have the advantage of simplicity. They are cheap to develop, and easy to add and delete, but they are becoming more and more complex. Tencent’s WeChat developers are making them more advanced, particularly for gaming and e-commerce purposes, making WeChat become even more dominant in this market. Mini Programs are starting to become a part of life for more and more developers and WeChat users, competing with traditional apps and acquiring customers from traditional app stores.
So, over a year and half after releasing the first Mini Program, we can see that they are rousing more and more interest, making them almost impossible for larger companies to ignore. Will things stay similar to how to are now? Nobody knows what the future holds but one thing is for sure: Tencent is working hard on marking this "trend" something permanent. They want Miini Programs to be part of their long-term plan.
We'ill finish with some impressive and promising key numbers; according to SCMP, by the second quarter of 2018, the number of WeChat Mni Programs reached one million and Mini Program users surpassed the 600 million mark in June this year.
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