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WeChat Deal With Starbucks Points to Cultural Shift at Tencent

Earlier this year, Tencent’s WeChat messenger started letting users in China send one another virtual Starbucks gift cards. But it took nine months for Tencent to seal the deal, in part because some WeChat product managers were initially reluctant to create a prominent feature just for one corporate brand, according to employees.

WeChat managers debated how such a feature might affect the app’s overall user experience, the employees said. While they eventually overcame their concerns, the debate was part of a cultural shift underway, not just at WeChat but also within Tencent as a whole. Long a consumer-focused company that makes nearly half its revenue from games, Tencent is trying to make more money in services for businesses like ad sales and cloud computing.

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“How do we help our corporate customers grow their business? How do we prove our value to our clients? We are still working on it,” said a manager in Tencent’s social ad department.  

—Shai Oster contributed to this article.

Adam J. Steinberg commented on this article.
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