Since its official launch in 2011, WeChat has become the leading social media platform in China. According to the Tencent Q3 2016 Financial Report, there are around 846 million monthly active users. This includes both the Chinese and overseas versions and is an increase of 30% over last year. WeChat has developed into a strong social and marketing tool with multi-dimensional functions that connect friends, businesses and customers.
This is a comprehensive overview of WeChat, covering its three major functions with strong social and marketing influence.
Note: WeChat in China is called “Weixin”, and the Chinese version is slightly different from the overseas version in terms of its operation and functions. This article deals only with the Chinese Weixin, because it is the one that you actually use for marketing to your Chinese customers.
I. Social Networking
Starting as an instant messaging app, like WhatsApp and LINE, social networking was the initial purpose of WeChat but it has expanded to encompass much more than this. So, what can you do on WeChat?
● 1. Chat / Group Chat
You can add friends and chat with them. You can also build chat groups and invite relevant people. Your chat history shows in your chat list. So do the official accounts that you follow.
In chat mode, you can send text, images, voice messages and emojis, as well as launch a voice or video call. You can even send “red packets” or transfer money with WeChat Pay.
For brands, group chats can be a channel for CRM. Adding particularly loyal or active customers to a chat group and interacting with them regularly, by providing exclusive discounts or answering their questions, you can build tighter relationships with your target audience and generate positive word of mouth. This is especially useful for startups trying to convert their early adopters into loyal customers or opinion leaders.
● 2. WeChat Moments
One of WeChat’s outstanding tools is Moments. It’s a semi-closed platform within WeChat where users can share pictures, text, short videos, external links etc. They can also interact with others by liking and commenting. However, unlike Facebook, where a user can choose to make posts public or show them only to selected groups, all posts can be seen only by a users’ friends.
Moments is the most popular WeChat function. Not only does it allow strong social connections but advertising is also permitted by way of Moments Ads, which are explained later in this article. Many official accounts use Moments as their primary WeChat marketing channel to promote themselves and grow followers.
WeChat Moments can also be used by individual users for commercial purposes. For example, someone might buy inexpensive cosmetics overseas and then sell them to Chinese buyers using WeChat. They display the products on WeChat Moments and instantly chat with customers. These are small-scale sole proprietors who sell only to their WeChat contacts.
● 3. Official Accounts
As of February 2016, there were over 10 million WeChat official accounts, 650,000 of which belong to companies or brands. According to research by the Chinese Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), among all official accounts, media, entertainment and cultural industries are the biggest players. The service industry and IT are in second and third place respectively.
|The service industry||20.6%|
↑ Source: WeChat Economic and Social Influence Report, CAICT, 2016.3
WeChat now has four types of official account, among which the Subscription Account and Service Account are the two most frequently used accounts for WeChat marketing purposes. They are slightly different in terms of publishing frequency and presentation format.
(For more detailed information on WeChat official account types, please refer to our blog post: Which WeChat Official Account Suits You Best?)
↑ Subscription Account
↑ Service Account
Note that all verified WeChat accounts also have access to functions that can be used for business purposes. So, what can you do?
With an official account, you can reach your audience and grow followers by publishing content regularly. Valuable or emotional appealing content is the most effective way to attract an audience, increase share links and reach more potential followers. Brand news and discount updates also do well.
↑ An example of valuable content: 5 easy-to-make breakfast recipes
↑ An example of content with emotional appeal: A story about traditional craftsmen in Hong Kong
⤷ Customer Service
Be responsive when interacting with your followers. Many people see brands’ social media as another customer services platform and expect an immediate response. In WeChat, any private messages sent to an official account must be answered within 48 hours before the response function is disabled. For this reason, it’s in your best interests to reply and solve any issues as soon as possible.
↑ A private message with reply
↑ Article comments with replies
Official accounts can also launch WeChat campaigns, such as encouraging followers to share articles to their Moments page, send back a screenshot and get a chance to win prizes. Although campaigns have limited reach due to WeChat’s semi-closed nature, official accounts can reach specific audiences efficiently and have the potential to convert participation into direct sales.
↑ WeChat campaign guideline and participator’s post from one cosmetic brand.
⤷ KOL & H5
Promotion/cross-promotion in conjunction with influential WeChat KOLs or using H5 (HTML5) games created by third parties are also options to engage with audiences.
Note that all campaigns must adhere to WeChat regulations on campaigns and promotions, and campaigns designed to entice followers with monetary or gift rewards for unclear purposes is often frowned upon. Accounts that break the rules may be banned by WeChat.
↑ A WeChat KOL account published an article to introduce and promote a toothpaste brand. Users can extract the QR Code and go to the brand account or online store.
↑ WeChat HTML5 game of ink painting by SK-II.
● 4. WeChat Shake
With this application, people can randomly find others nearby by shaking their phones at the same time. They can add each other as friends and chat if they’re both interested. Some businesses combine Shake with promotions. For example, some brands have launched “Shake To See Your Lucky Draw Results” campaigns to attract followers. The help of third-party developers is needed to pull this off.
WeChat has two major types of advertising. With a huge and detailed user database, WeChat Ad helps brands reach their specific target groups in a more straightforward way.
● 1. Moments Ads
This type of ad is shown on your target audience’s Moments feed. This makes users feel that brands are just like their close friends. Moments ads use a CPM pricing model and the lowest budget to start a campaign is 50,000 RMB.
- Advertiser’s name & profile picture: direct to advertiser’s WeChat page
- Copywriting: no more than 40 characters (or 4 lines), simple and understandable
- Visual (pictures, videos): use visual elements to explain the idea and attract an audience
- Hyperlink: call for further action, users can go to the advertiser’s WeChat page/campaign page/separate H5 page
- Interactions: audiences can comment on or like the post
● 2. Account Ads
Advertisers can also target specific audience groups through advertising at the end of published articles. Well-known WeChat official accounts are called “publishers” and they have high subscriptions and page views.
As an advertiser, you can promote your brand in four different ways with account ads:
|Encourage users to follow your account|
|Ask users to download your app|
|Give users a coupon|
|Encourage users to visit campaign/promotion pages|
These ads use the CPC pricing model and the bidding starts from 0.5 RMB per click. Usually, the advertisement will stay active for 3-5 days and it’s best to optimize it every 3 days.
WeChat Pay is the function that has most penetrated daily life. Users can connect their WeChat Wallet with a bank card and freely transfer money between both sides. Many offline merchants also encourage customers to pay with WeChat Pay by scanning a QR code. As a new cashless payment method, WeChat Pay is highly accepted by customers and exerts a broad influence in people’s lives.
● 1. Red Packets
In the beginning, WeChat Pay became popular because of its “Red Packet” function. People can send small amounts (0.01-200 RMB) in virtual red packets to each other. This was a new and fun way of social networking, especially during the holidays or for special occasions. Money transfers between two WeChat accounts are also extremely quick and easy. This is a much used and highly valued service.
● 2. WeChat Store vs. Wei-Store
In terms of sales, offline merchants can attract customers and encourage consumption by providing discounts for WeChat Pay but it can also be used for online commercial purposes.
There are two major types of mobile stores based on WeChat Pay:
|WeChat Store (微信小店)||Wei-Store (微店)|
|Introduction||One of the WeChat functions that is on an official account’s admin page. All actions will be done through WeChat admin.||Third-party app with its own admin system but can be connected with a WeChat official account and WeChat Pay.|
|Application Criteria||Verified WeChat service accounts which use WeChat Pay.||Individuals with a Chinese ID and bank account; Companies with Chinese Business Registration and a corporate bank account. Having a WeChat official account is not a prerequisite.|
↑ WeChat Store
↑ Individual Wei-Store
↑ Corporate/Brand Wei-Store
Both WeChat Stores and Wei-Stores can be linked to official accounts. Brands can publish articles or sales information on official accounts and encourage users to directly visit mobile stores to pay with WeChat, further converting traffic into sales.
● 3. Life Services
WeChat Pay also cooperates with third-party platforms to provide various services such as flight/train ticket buying, hotel booking, taxi hailing and group buying. All these services accept WeChat Pay, further cementing its presence in daily life.
WeChat is now more than a super popular social media platform and chatting app. It’s a complete operating system with social, advertising and payment functions, providing great potential and opportunities. WeChat marketing is essential for brands that want to be noticed in China. It continues to expand and evolve. New functions, regulations and marketing techniques keep popping up.
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