How to Use WeChat to Capture an Audience in China
The social media platform WeChat is the natural first step for brands expanding into the Chinese market.
I wrote this article for marketers interested in conducting WeChat campaigns, and starting their journey into this enormous market of potential customers.
What is WeChat?
The platform WeChat (Weixin 微信 in Chinese) was released in January 2011 by tech giants ”Tencent” in China.
The application is a smartphone app as well as an online platform. It has several features including instant messaging, voice/video calls and audio messaging services.
WeChat has evolved significantly from its humble origins as an instant messaging app. It is now the number one social network in China. It provides a platform where users can share pictures, videos (WeChat Sights) and updates named ”Moments” (akin to a Facebook status).
The younger generation primarily communicate via WeChat, the traditional text message from a mobile phone is essentially redundant.
The app also provides many location-based services such as food delivery, online taxi ordering (like Didi/Uber) and a location sharing mapping system.
It also comes with WeChat Wallet which users can link with their Chinese bank account. The Wallet system enables WeChat users to pay in thousands of shops, restaurants and for services all across China with their smartphone using either the QR code system, or WeChat pay as well as WeChat red envelopes (Hongbao).
It is proving to be a truly revolutionary social network with growth now all across Asia. The most phenomenal aspect to consider is that the user rarely leaves this single application. You can also have your own website or app running inside the application. This opens the door for e-stores and interactive WeChat pages.
The Chinese now prefer services offered directly through WeChat so this can be utilized. Pages and stores can be quite easily customized, curated and continually updated.
For professionals, WeChat offers a place to advertise products and/or services using a follower based system. The Official Account system allows users to subscribe in order to promote content to fans and offer them a variety of services.
WeChat is also considered as one of the major online advertising platforms in China alongside Baidu and Weibo (literal translation ‘micro-blog’). For companies the potential of this increasingly international platform is truly extraordinary. The figures below regarding its huge potential and growth serve to demonstrate this.
WeChat facts and statistics
Since its launch in 2011, WeChat has had over 1.1 billion registered accounts and 732 million users (570 million of which use it on a daily basis).
The Chinese people predominantly are using their phones for several key purposes. These range from paying in stores, transferring money, playing mobile games, booking taxis & tickets, chatting, sharing content and purchasing products.
WeChat data shows that over 639 million users access the platform via their phone. More than 200 million users have their bank card linked to their WeChat account and over 83% of WeChat users purchase online products through the platform. These figures really display the importance of WeChat in the Chinese market.
The Chinese market is currently going through a significant transformation, new technologies have led marketing practices into another era in China.
The traditional brick-and-mortar shops are gradually declining with Chinese consumers less interested in physical retail. The younger generation are becoming internet experts and high-tech-savvy consumers, their purchasing habits shifting towards more efficient and convenient consumer processes.
The use of a smartphone to purchase any kind of product online has been growing rapidly in recent years, particularly with crowded and congested urban areas in China dissuading high street shoppers.
WeChat currently has over 10,000 active advertisers, over 1,000 publishers and is connected to more than 67,000 different apps.
I will discuss professional solutions on WeChat later on in the article.
Since its launch in 2011, WeChat has grown from 2.8 million active users to over 732 million in 2016, see chart below.
WeChat is mainly used on smartphones and the majority of active users are aged between 16 and 35, see pie chart below.
How to attract followers on WeChat
WeChat offers a vast array of business solutions for brands, whether they are foreign or local.
Brands that are looking to develop their business in China need to be using at least one of the two Chinese major platforms, Weibo or WeChat.
They would be required to register for an official account and have it verified. A verified WeChat account allows you to promote your services, and/or products through high-quality content such as videos, pictures, audio messages and text that your followers can access and share.
WeChat membership features the possibility to “convert” your followers into members. Members can be offered loyalty programs with membership cards enabling brands to adapt their marketing strategies and highlight sales promotions to a certain segment of consumers.
There are three major ways to use WeChat in your marketing activities:
- Providing a virtual VIP card
- Sending promotional offer notifications
- Delivering e-coupons
Promotional offer notifications and e-coupons are usually based around the user sharing the content in order to qualify. And content in China should always be focused on family and friend offers as the family is considered the most important facet of life.
Improving your brand image in China
A good way to promote your brand and increase your number of followers is to make use of the QR Code system. Start by adding your brand QR Code to your packaging, on your Weibo page (cross promotion) or simply on your official website (preferably in Chinese, hosted in China and referenced on Baidu). Combining this with wall posts and active promotions will prove to be an effective marketing strategy.
You can draw attention from followers by using WeChat’s API (Download it here!). The WeChat’s API allows you to integrate the services into mobile apps. Remember that followers should be given motivation to sign up. It would be wise to offer them prizes, promotions and engaging content and entertainment services.
WeChat has other business related features with the opportunity to set up a mini website in the application to complete your brand experience.
This mini website is divided into two-level menus and used for marketing purposes. These two-level interacting menus are essential tools to better manage engagement with your fans. You can set this up on the WeChat account panel or with the help of third-party services.
WeChat enables you to geo-target your community and even create categories of fans according to their gender and location.
Using WeChat moments advertising
83% of active WeChat users are also purchasing goods online. A powerful way to advertise your brand on WeChat is to register and pay for WeChat Moments Ads (which is now open to all brands).
In China this is largely a more covert form of marketing where users paid to promote content.
A scheme for advertising is created on personal users WeChat Moments. The price for posting on individual’s moments range from 10 RMB ($1.5 USD) to 400 RMB ($60) per post. Advertising through this process is effective as Chinese users particularly trust the views and opinions of other consumers on social networks, more so than in the west.
Below is what WeChat Moments Advertising looks like on a common smartphone.
- Your brand name and the profile picture
- Ad description up to 40 characters
- Link to a html5 webpage hosted on a Tencent server
- Up to 6 pictures (products, logo, ad…)
WeChat Moments Advertising has three city specific categories. The first one is Beijing and Shanghai, the second one is the 35 first tier 1, and tier 2 cities (like provincial capitals), and non-specific cities.
You can choose to advertise to 17 industries: education, travel, finance, car, real estate, home products, clothing, food & beverages, life-style services, business, service, beauty products, internet/IT, sport, medical and health, pregnancy products and gaming.
The cost depends on the location, CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) for non-specific location ads is 40RMB ($6 USD) and CPM for users in Beijing & Shanghai is 140RMB ($21), whilst CPM for users in the 35 tier 1 and tier 2 cities is 90RMB ($13.5).
WeChat is a very user friendly application with versions in both English and Chinese. The most phenomenal thing about the app is that users use it for so many services and are thus constantly interacting with it.
It has been designed to retain users and to provide a complete service so that the Chinese do not need to leave WeChat. This ease of use is the key to WeChat’s success in China.
Guest Author: Benji Lamb is a digital marketing specialist based in Shanghai. He is passionate about providing digital solutions for western companies expanding into China. For more information see his blog and website here.