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Created in 2011 as a modest messaging service, WeChat now has close to a billion users and is China’s most used app by quite a distance. Known locally as Weixin, it’s now evolved significantly in both users numbers and the features it offers. For Chinese consumers, it’s become something of an essential service. That means your brand really needs an effective strategy for the platform if you’re to succeed in China.
WeChat is sometimes compared to WhatsApp, a popular messaging tool in many markets with over 1 billion users across Brazil, Russia, India, and Europe.
But WeChat has much, much more to offer than WhatsApp, including some pretty nifty eCommerce integrations. The app’s had a significant impact on China’s active population of web users, changing the way they communicate with one another and how they shop.
Unlike Facebook, that makes 95% of revenue from ads, WeChat’s income derives from the service it provides. This includes selling games and facilitating online payments that enable users to shop through the app as well as book services such as taxis.
WeChat shows that the Chinese market is far ahead of the West when it comes to social eCommerce.
In some ways, WeChat is peculiarly Chinese. Typing Chinese characters can be laborious, so WeChat offered a solution – voice messages that were super easy to record. It was one of the first messaging apps to combine voice, text, and photograph tools in one package, enabling communications between Mandarin speakers.
Other popular features on the site are uniquely Chinese, such as the ‘Red Packets’ – a digital version of cash-stuffed envelopes given as gifts around Chinese New Year.
Perhaps because so much can be done via this one app, users tend to be active on the site at frequent intervals. WeChat users visit the app an average of 10 times each day, at 50-minute intervals, spending over an hour on the app daily. That’s the same amount of interaction that Western web users spend across Instagram, Facebook and Facebook messenger combined.
WeChat enjoys a high share of attention because there are so many services within this one app. Services such as Tinder and Slack, which are separate platforms in the West, are all within WeChat. Novelties such as bike sharing apps are also integrated.
Because WeChat’s managed to add features that Western messaging apps can’t handle, there is a greater range of possibilities without users having to leave the messaging service. This means they stay there longer, and come back more frequently.
Limited content output
As a brand wanting to use WeChat for marketing purposes, you’ll need to jump through some bureaucratic hoops to set your account up in the first place. Foreign businesses can either register as a wholly foreign-owned enterprise – a fairly long and tortuous process – or piggyback off a local business, usually for a fee.
There’s also a third option to apply for an account directly with WeChat parent company Tencent. You’ll have to decide which approach best suits your purposes and local capabilities. WeChat offers two kinds of business accounts for external marketing – Subscription and Service accounts. Choose carefully as each offers different features and content options.
Before you even launch on the site it’s important to have content all set up on your account so that potential followers have something to find there. You can accelerate your following by offering competitive promotional offers and rewards that incentivize following your brand.
You may like to focus your attention on particular audience segments, such as offering incentive programmes to loyal customers via the app.
The first thing your brand needs to know about WeChat is that your content output is pretty constrained, thanks to a tight quota on the number of messages you can send your followers.
Smart brands turn this to their advantage by segmenting their audience very carefully, creating content around narrow interest areas (perhaps TV or automotive). Paying for ads in the stream is extremely expensive and there seems to be evidence that ads are declining in ROI.
There’s really no strategy that beats consistently putting out good content that users find useful, interesting or emotionally-affecting.
When it comes to the practicalities of running campaigns in WeChat, it’s important to consider all the details. As brands aren’t able to put out a great deal of content in this channel, you have to make each piece really count.
Headlines and creative should be crisp, clear and attention-grabbing. To stand out from the competition, you need to think carefully about your content’s visual appeal. Experiment with different content types; infographics, GIFs, and using guest editors.
Winning the attention war
There’s a great deal of competition for audience attention in WeChat, and your strategy needs to consider how it’s going to win the war for attention. Video is presently the most popular type of content in WeChat, so this should be a key component of your approach.
Choose carefully the time when you post – although most branded content is posted between 9 and 5, when marketing managers are in the office, the peak of audience attention is in the evening, between 6 and 10 pm. Posting later can gain their attention. You may also find that less content is posted at the weekend, so that’s another good time to gain attention.
Understanding what triggers your audience’s engagement and piques their interest should be your key concern on WeChat. Perhaps it’s a particular type of product that you produce or a type of content that seems to work for your brand on WeChat.
You may find that responding rapidly to real-time events, such as celebrity news or a sports event, can be a way to drive audience engagement. Be aware also that use of the messaging app tends to peak at key times in the year, such as around national holidays in China. Chinese New Year and the mid-autumn festival are periods of high activity.
Although WeChat’s a unique platform, in some ways your core strategy is the same as for any social platform worldwide. Just create content that your users find useful or interesting and keep doing it.
WeChat offers huge potential for brands that can engage audiences and it’s a handy way to drive traffic and build an audience for a new brand. Getting it right on this platform and you’ll be well on your way to making a success of the Chinese market.