WeChat’s quiet search evolution
The search engine wars have gotten a lot interesting in China, and it may point the way to how social searching will evolve globally.
So CMOs, take note. But first, a bit of background.
For long Baidu reigned supreme in the lucrative search-sphere in China.
With Google unavailable, Baidu created a single portal to all “approved” information and became the “B” the B-A-T triumvirate of China’s internet giants.
Baidu made money (lots of it) through paid ads on search pages, similar to how Google does it.
The problem with this approach is that it is not inherently social.
Clicking on a link transports you to another landing page. That was it as far as your interaction with the search engine goes.
Of course, Baidu, like Google, is looking to up their game by investing in artificial intelligence. But in the end, it is about search results and pages.
Not for Tencent, the “T” in BAT.
It is looking to grow its revenues by allowing its users to search using the feature “搜一搜” via their already mega-app WeChat.
Tencent has done this before.
It had another search engine but lacked the powerful search capabilities that Baidu provided.
The new incarnation is a whole different value proposition—and Baidu should worry.
The fact it caters for mobile users should also make Google sit up and take notice.
In WeChat, the same search will give the most recent news on the top, followed by related posts from friends and related random articles at the bottom.
Clicking on any of these posts will start WeChat’s built-in browser, meaning you never leave the social media app at all.
This "walled garden" approach is further augmented by the fact that the algorithm uses what is available on WeChat—not on the entire Internet--which other companies cannot get to.
It allows Tencent better control over content while allowing WeChat users to share easily within one platform.
Tencent also has more information than Baidu—like your shopping preferences, your spending patterns, key merchants, articles you like to read and share, and who your friends are.
It allows Tencent to help CMOs target key users more efficiently.
Social searching is still in its infancy.
But CMOs will be well advised to follow this new trend and even explore it. With Baidu's operating profits plummeting, it may be time to switch search tactics in China.