It has been quiet about the Chinese messaging app Bullet Messenger lately, until a recent news report suggested the app had been temporarily removed from app stores due to copyright breaches over some of the pictures used in the app. But with the efforts of the Bullet Messenger engineering team, the application went back on within just 24 hours.
While the Bullet Messenger crisis was dealt with in a timely manner, the application still has plenty of issues. Having attracted over 5 million users within two weeks, Bullet Messenger still has a very long way to go to find effective strategies to retain and engage its existing users.
Bullet Messenger possesses many positive traits. It had an extraordinary promotion campaign that accumulated a vast number of users. With the help of WeChat moments, the application managed to gather new users at an impressive rate. Furthermore, the success of acquiring additional users earned the application a great reputation: the WeChat contender.
Being removed from app stores for less than one day is not too serious of a problem. However, for the rapidly growing Bullet Messenger, the messaging application will likely face larger obstacles due to censorship and Chinese local laws. With more users on board, and content spreading fast among users, the platform may need to be scrutinized and limited. Although Bullet Messenger has yet to get in any trouble with cyberspace authorities, it is inevitable on the Chinese Internet: Bullet Messenger will need to prepare to comply with the requirements set by Chinese authorities.
This issue almost ruled out the possibility for Bullet Messenger to become a Telegram-style messaging application. Despite the huge demand, there is very little room for encrypted messages in Chinese Cyberspace. As both Whatsapp and Telegram are blocked in China, Bullet Messenger will have a hard time to succeed on such an obstructed path.
That being said, it is also very challenging for Bullet Messenger to expand internationally. As Whatsapp and Telegram are already established in other countries, there is very little room for a newly developed application to gain user loyalty and popularity ouside of China.
Unlike products such as DingTalk and QQ, Bullet Messenger will compete with WeChat head-on, as both products are putting their emphasis on mobile applications. And in order to prevail against the dominating WeChat, Bullet Messenger needs to do more than simply duplicating the features already available on WeChat, and find its own unique niche in order to attract and retain users.
Bullet Messenger successfully acquired the most important thing on the Internet: attention. And with the attention of Chinese cyberspace, Bullet Messenger is already in a position where many Internet products can only dream to be.
Yet competing with the dominant WeChat is not an easy challenge, partly because of the natural exclusiveness of the messaging app market. When you can find all of your friends on one platform, it’s unlikely to have much interest in other social media sites with similar features.
It works the same for WeChat users. If they have all their friends on WeChat, it would make no sense for them to simply abandon WeChat for another application. Perhaps the current version of Bullet Messenger has similar features to WeChat, such as sending messages to friends and chatting in larger groups. However, Bullet Messenger still needs to work on catching up with the many extensive features offered by its competitors, such as online payment, social media features, and mini programs to entertain and retain user interest.
Having difficulties to match the exhaustive features that WeChat provides on its giant platform, Bullet Messenger has to work even harder to come up with new ground-breaking features. The development team needs to focus on things that are in high demand on the Chinese market. Bullet Messenger should consider developing features that aren’t yet popular on the Chinese market.
To challenge an existing hegemon, Bullet Messenger must have something that its rival cannot offer. Indeed, it will be a hard process to figure that out. But the outcome would be rewarding. It could be a small feature focusing on mental health, or an auto-play of motivational speeches, or any other feature the average user would not anticipate. The new innovative programs might make a huge difference. Think about it: A successful new feature developed by Bullet Messenger may be a game changer that could completely shift the Chinese messaging application market.
Bullet Messenger’s parent company Smartisan is also facing financial challenges. Earlier this week, it was reported that Smartisan had made massive layoffs in its Chengdu branch. The company decided to bring the remaining employees to its Beijing headquarters.
During the previous launch events in May and August, Luo Yonghao, CEO of Smartisan always liked to address Smartisan as a company originating in Chengdu. But now Smartisan’s Chengdu office is empty with merely a few staff members watching over the company’s property. Founded in 2012, Smartisan has received eight rounds of investments altogether, with the last one being led by the Chengdu government. An insider told a Caijing reporter that the CTO of Smartisan Wu Dezhou, regarded by Luo as the lifesaver of Smartisan, had also left the company.
However, Luo later denied the rumor by saying, “It’s fake. One compulsory lesson for doing business is to avoid retaliation, even though senseless reporters sometimes can cause you all kinds of trouble, and even though they never apologize or clarify.”
Some say that bullet messenger might actually be Smartisan’s saving grace when it comes to future investments. The upcoming launch event in November marks the end of the company’s journey this year, and it is rumored that this time they have resorted to smart household appliances including new air purifiers.
feature picture: tech node