Tencent Holdings, the world's third-biggest internet firm, is expanding its global footprint to Thailand with the launch of a social messaging application.
Tanata ‘Kaeng Som’ Chaiat and Temfah ‘Panpan’ Krisanayuth, leading actor and actress of TV drama Buang Rak, are the presenters for WeChat. KITJA APICHONROJAREK
The Chinese firm has chosen Thailand to promote its flagship WeChat app in Southeast Asia.
The move by Tencent looks set to spur competition between China's WeChat and Japan's LINE.
Poshu Yeung, vice-president for international business at Tencent, said the company is spending 14 million baht to promote WeChat in Thailand, especially to draw teenagers.
"Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia are our focus for WeChat," Mr Yeung said.
Tencent so far has a million users in Thailand since introducing WeChat two months ago.
WeChat allows members to search for their friends based on locations.
Globally, WeChat has added 200 million users in 100 countries since its launch in January 2011, with most in China.
Tencent in 2010 acquired half of the international shares in Sanook.com, a leading web portal in Thailand with 9 million users.
Krittee Manoleehagul, managing director for content and services at Sanook Online, dubs Thailand a top-10 country in terms of adopting mobile applications, showing 351% growth during January-October 2011.
The adoption of mobile internet in the country was 14% out of a total of 75 million mobile subscribers, with average mobile internet use of 30 hours per month. Some 78% of users were younger than 35.
The number of smartphone users totalled 15 million, with up to 7 million using social messaging apps.
"We aim to attract half of the existing social messaging users to our WeChat," Mr Krittee said.
Mr Yeung announced that Exact & Scenario, a leading TV production and entertainment firm, is Tencent's first corporate account in Thailand using WeChat.
He said social communications will become a marketing tool for companies, particularly in entertainment and retail.
General manager Dennis Hau said the company plans to add TenPay, a mobile payment service, to WeChat in China over the next two months.
"If successful, we will replicate this in other countries," he said.