The renowned social network ‘WeChat’ is of great interest to western marketers currently, and it should well be.
With 700 million active users it has become the gateway into China, your WeChat activity has become arguably more important than your website in China.
For B2C and B2B, WeChat is a key marketing tool in the aptly named ‘mysterious orient’. Without a strong presence on WeChat you are practically invisible in China.
What is WeChat?
Tencent owned ‘WeChat’ began life as a simple instant messenger application before morphing into the fully fledged, integrated social network it has become. It is primarily an application for smartphones.
It is hard to convey the scale of WeChat’s popularity in China. 700 million users spend on average an hour a day utilizing the many services that have been developed as an integral part of daily life in China.
- Text/video/picture messaging
- WeChat moments (akin to Facebook’s news feed)
- QR Codes
- Mapping and localization services
- WeChat Gaming
- E-wallet, Payment and Financial services
- Mobile phone top-up
- ‘Didi Kaudi’ – Taxi Ordering
WeChat is a mobile phenomenon with the vast majority of users on smartphones. There is also a desktop version but the Chinese have embraced smartphone technology with affordable, mass market smartphones such as ‘Xiaomei’ proving to be incredibly successful.
The success of WeChat is down to both the variety of services it offers and the fact that users can run their whole life through this one application. In fact, external website links are opened within WeChat itself, this functions like a browser. You are still within WeChat even when directed to an external source. As a result there are a higher number of WeChat interactions and therefore greater exposure to content.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important WeChat features and how they can integrate with your China digital strategy.
Businesses can launch official accounts on WeChat. These are distinct from general user accounts.
Official accounts allow for the creation and customization of your own mini-site within the WeChat application, you can also provide your own unique content and customer services, this acts as a key area for WeChat branding.
A quality mini-site developed on WeChat.
There are two different varieties Subscription and Service:
- Subscription accounts – These are better if you want to push more regular content and notifications, you have one post per day and these notifications for users are displayed in a sub-section for subscription accounts. It is important to note that these accounts do not allow for WeChat payment.
- Service accounts – These are best for businesses accessing more advanced features on WeChat. Your posted content will be seen on the main ‘moments’ feed and displayed in-line with personal contacts, so as users look at their messaging page they will see your post within this. Service accounts also offer WeChat payment which is a significant plus.
With official accounts you need to attract followers. On WeChat users can only see content posted if they are already subscribed to your account. Therefore many businesses use their official WeChat as a site for promotions and exclusive offers for subscribers, this strongly incentivises the Chinese who have developed a strong culture of following official accounts.
You attract followers through exclusive WeChat promotions, the sharing of quality Chinese tailored content, and through interacting with users. There are many large groups on WeChat focused on specific topics where you can start conversational threads linked to your area of expertise. Users will often share content on their moments if it is interesting and engaging, there is a much stronger culture of sharing posts in China which you can utilize with the right WeChat content.
Above is the moments feed with a sponsored post from a service account .
Above is the ‘subscription accounts’ followed page.
From a marketing perspective the monetization of WeChat is fascinating. WeChat can be linked to a users bank account where they can make payments via WeChat itself. Users collect QQ coins, transfer money, top up their mobiles, pay utility bills and make payments all via WeChat.
A social network developing in line with e-commerce in this fashion is unique.
For western business here are the two most useful functions:
- Hongbaos – This translates as ‘red envelope’ and is based on the Chinese tradition of giving red envelopes at special occasions and festivals. Businesses can utilize ‘hongbaos’ to attract followers with a lucky dip system with one or many followers winning prizes. In the envelope is a fixed sum which is then transferred to the users WeChat wallet. They can be shared in groups or individually as a reward for following and sharing your posts.
An example of Hongbao posting, you can select a random or identical amount to be allocated to those who open the package.
- Micro Stores – Businesses with service accounts can now open ‘m-stores’ within WeChat itself. Users can browse stores on WeChat with incredible ease of payment, with their account linked to their banking. They just input their password and make payment within seconds. Brands can now start developing these customized micro stores, it is like hosting your own website within the established infrastructure WeChat provides.
The Micro Store for ‘Croisi Europe’ with links for payment via WeChat’s E-wallet.
Your content on WeChat needs to be developed for WeChat users. Incentives to follow your account should always include friends and family, if users share it their immediate social circle can also benefit. The Chinese greatly trust the views and opinions of their close social circle and you are able to attract whole groups in this way.
In terms of adapting your digital marketing strategy you need to research your target audience, which WeChat groups are they already active in? You need to be present here and connect with users in order to facilitate group conversations. Creating your own group (of up to 500 people) is a way to start sharing your own content and promotional offers.
It is a cliché but it is true that the Chinese are still very fond of cartoon animation and more intense color palettes. It depends on your brand and how you seek to market yourself, as opting for more subtle and neutral imagery can help you stand out from the more traditional Chinese approach.
All content needs to be adapted into simplified Mandarin Chinese however with the adoption also of more colloquial language on WeChat. It is ‘conversational’ marketing to a certain degree.
QR Code Marketing
Image Source: West Gate
The wide scale phenomenon of the QR code is quite unique to China. WeChat has built itself around the effective utilization of the QR code. Users scan each others codes to add one another but also to link to official, subscription accounts. There is a significant opportunity for offline to online marketing here with physical products featuring QR codes. In China the QR code is now part of the physical environment in cosmopolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Well placed QR codes drive traffic but also allow for cross promotion on different social media outlets and forums. Weibo (akin to Twitter) is the second largest social network and often features images as posts embedded with QR codes linking to WeChat accounts.
China is a wholly digital marketing territory, offline activities are primarily concerned with bringing consumer leads online.
KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders)
WeChat is the main site for the Key Opinion Leader, the Chinese on social media are strongly influenced by these ‘influencers’ who have already established significant online followings around them.
For branding this is particularly effective when they share content or links to your official accounts and praise the quality of your product or service. KOL’s can be recruited by businesses to promote them, this is an aggressive initial market entry strategy that works well but can prove to be costly, it is not ultimately sustainable as you do need to build up your own e-reputation.
For marketers developing links with influencers is crucial initially.
‘Jamie’ is an influential figure in Chinese English education, with many educational businesses looking to expand into China partnering with established English learning KOLs can prove effective.
Evangeline is a reputable figure in food and dining and often posts influential restaurant reviews.
Geo-localized marketing services
WeChat is arguably the most developed social network on the planet, geo-location services are now starting to be used for marketing purposes.
Based on a users location, content ads can be streamed at the bottom of pages that are specifically tailored to the users preferences. A key area for this is in retail, consumers enter the shop and then need to follow the account for a limited edition discount for example. It links digital to concrete physical activity in a revolutionary way from a marketing perspective.
Turning on location services which can be provided to other friends on WeChat, the location is set to also determine more focused, geo-localized ad content.
To conclude, WeChat is an innovative and intelligent network that needs to be understood deeply for effective marketing activities. With a significant e-reputation and visibility developed on WeChat, brands and companies will generate leads digitally in China. You need to be seen on this gateway network to China in order to succeed in the aptly named ‘mysterious orient’.
If you have any further questions or projects in mind please get in touch.
Guest Author: Benji is digital marketing specialist based in Shanghai, China. He is passionate about providing solutions for businesses expanding their operations into China. For more information see his blog and website here.