Bullet Messenger (or Zidan Duanxin), a new Chinese messaging app, has hit the headlines in the past few weeks with hyped-up discussions over the possibilities of this new app challenging the dominant position of WeChat, a ubiquitous everyday messaging app in China.
The collective revelry happened for a reason. Launching on August 20, Bullet Messenger was positioned as the most “efficient communication tool” and had seen a surging increase in downloads. It gained 7 million users within three weeks, and in the first week after the launch, it was ranked No.1 as the most downloaded free social media app in App Store in China, according to South China Morning Post.
Also, Kuairu Technology, the developer of the app, raised RMB 150 million (about US$ 21.83 million) in Series A funding from Gaorong Capital, Chengwei Capital and Smartisan. The app was reportedly to spend RMB 1 billion (US$ 150 million) to acquire 100 million users as it aims to take on Tencent’s WeChat
The heated discussions over Bullet Messenger have a lot to do with Luo Yonghao, founder and CEO of the smartphone maker Smartisan that invested in the new app. Luo is a huge opinion leader in China’s internet and technology world, who has over 15.3 million followers on Weibo. He has successfully led the public discussion over the app, and most of that was done just on Weibo.
Here’s a brief timeline of how Bullet Messenger was introduced to the public and got the overwhelming attention in such a short period of time.
On August 20, Bullet Messenger was featured as one of the three major products at Smartisan’s smartphone launch event. That night, Bullet Messenger posted a statement on its official Weibo account, saying that the server was overloaded due to a sudden influx of downloads and was being repaired.
On August 24, Bullet Messenger was ranked No. 1 as most downloaded app on both the social app chart and the free app chart in App Store. Luo Yonghao, aka. the social media marketing master, shared two screenshots of the charts on Weibo to continue to lead the discussion.
On August 25, Luo said on Weibo that Alipay would soon be integrated into Bullet Messenger after previously saying that uninstalling WeChat is “not realistic,” leading to another hype of discussions as the media had been reporting if the app could defeat WeChat. It was a really smart move of Luo to pull in Alibaba’s financial affiliate Alipay — one of WeChat’s largest rivals — to further bundle the talking points of Bullet Messenger with those tech giants.
On the very same day, Luo wrote another “showing-off” post on Weibo, saying that the app has triggered App Store’s automatic verification system due to the large number of downloads.
On August 27, Bullet Messenger announced that it has removed the Tencent News source in the information section in the app. (For those who don’t know, Tencent also owns WeChat.)
On August 28, Luo again dropped some big news on Weibo, announcing that Bullet Messenger has completed its RMB 150 series A funding round. He said in the post: “I’ve only talked to a tenth of over 50 VCs and investors I plan to meet with.” Boom.
With streams of Weibo posts that dropped news here and there, Bullet Messenger successfully caught attention and drove engagement on social media.
Essentially, the new features that Bullet Messenger rolled out are quite different from what WeChat has to offer, as stressed over and over again by Luo Yonghao.
Bullet Messenger highlights its “high efficiency” functions, such as fast voice-to-text typing, replying without getting into the chat windows, showing the contacts’ past thumbnails, and so on.
Among the features, the “voice-to-text” function is the app’s major selling point. It provides a fresh new way to type. The users can send out voice and text messages that are bundled together, and the app would automatically recognize and transcribe the voice messages.
The rapid ascent of Bullet Messenger is largely due to the Chinese users’ craving mentality for an alternative to the mega-app WeChat that boasts a large user base of over 1 billion monthly active users.
With the image of Bullet Messenger being successfully shaped as “WeChat’s defier,” the new messaging app can easily drive engagement on social media. After all, the idea of challenging the ubiquitous WeChat is a huge talking point by itself.
With that being said, Bullet Messenger does carve out a niche market. Just like what Hao Xijie, co-founder of Kuairu Technology, said, the app hopes to appeal to the users “in between” Alibaba’s DingTalk, an office communication tool, and Tencent’s Wechat, a general messaging app that’s often used to connect with friends or talk to people at work.
With the mentality to show off new tech gadgets and apps, the Chinese internet users benefited a lot of distributing the information of the app. Since the launch of Bullet Messenger, I’ve seen quite some QR-code friend invitations on my WeChat moments.
WeChat has taken advantage from some of its signature marketing benefits, such as WeChat ads and WeChat official accounts. With its humongous user base, WeChat is able to provide marketers a well-built playground to launch marketing campaigns, place ads, and put up promotional materials through WeChat official accounts, and so on.
However, Bullet Messenger has yet to roll out similar functions. There is no way to use Bullet Messenger for organic or paid marketing yet - no newsfeed, ads, no way to ‘follow’ users and no great customer support features. At the moment, it only comes with a “news tap” built in the app, where it aggregates news content from media outlets. It remains unclear how Bullet Messenger will further upgrade the app with more features designed for marketing purpose.
“It seems that Bullet Messenger will have to first grow a much larger user base and then consider how it can develop its advertising feature,” said Shirley, a social marketer at Nanjing Marketing Group. “The voice-to-text function is useful, but people might not have much motivation to use the app as an everyday communication tool as they don't have as many contacts on Bullet Messenger as opposed to WeChat,” she said.
Despite the seemingly successful marketing result in the app’s early distribution stage, Bullet Messenger still has a long way to go in terms of product development, and it still needs to work on the upgrades of its user experience to retain the users it gained in such a short period of time.
“Just like iMessage that comes with those fun emojis and interactive features, Bullet Messenger seems to me another fun way to text,” said Sesia, a social marketer at Nanjing Marketing Group.
“However, when people get over with that ‘freshness,’ they might as well just keep using WeChat unless Bullet Messenger can come up with some strong intentions people can’t say no to,” she added.