It's tricky to predict what WeChat will be in the future, but here are some pointers on how to make the best use of its current format.
Just a year or so ago, WeChat was only used for private messages between friends. Today, it has become a multi-platform tool for private and public use. It's tricky to predict what WeChat will be in the future, but here are some pointers on how to make the best use of its current format.
What Is WeChat?
WeChat (also called Weixin - "micro-message" in Chinese) is a mobile phone text and voice messaging communication service developed by Tencent (founded in November 1998, Tencent has grown into China's largest and most-used Internet service portal). Users can access it across a variety of platforms including Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Symbian.
At its core, WeChat is very similar to many other instant messaging apps such as the popular WhatsApp. However, it has features native to more traditional social media platforms, such as a newsfeed (Facebook), a focus on small, bite-sized content (Twitter), video calling (Skype), and location-based services (Foursquare).
At the beginning of this year, WeChat announced on its official Sina Weibo account that it had reached a landmark 300 million users.
Who Uses WeChat?
According to its own data, most WeChat users find it through other products related to Tencent Group. More than half are aged 25 to 30, they live in first-tier cities, and 24 percent of them are white collar.
Why So Unique?
Large number of users. With the rapid development of on- and offline exposure, based on Tencent QQ's huge database (it's the biggest IM tool in China, with 784 million active users), it's easy for WeChat to own a large number of followers, and to keep the number growing.
Precise positioning. It's possible to categorize people into different groups according to their location and gender.
A new model of social CRM. Unlike Weibo, WeChat is not focused on exposure and influence. Instead, it's concerned with giving each client a personalized service designed to satisfy individual needs.
WeChat Public Platform: The First Step for Brand Marketing
How to apply for a public account: WeChat opened its public platform in August 2012. Brands can apply for a public account via a QQ account. It allows for duplication of names, so brands need not be concerned that others have registered their name before them.
How to drive subscription: On registration, brands will be given a personalized QR code with a picture of their ID in its center. Users can subscribe to brand accounts by scanning the QR code or searching for their ID via the tool "Adding a Friend."
Verified and unverified public accounts. Unverified accounts can send text, pictures, and voice messages, while verified accounts have access to more benefits. For example, a verified account can send combined image and text messages:
To become verified, brands have to recruit 1,000 subscribers. Promotion through Sina Weibo is an effective way to achieve this, complemented by offline promotion in-store.
Using WeChat to Share Brand Images
Brands can gain viral traction by displaying their logos on subscribers' personal pages. For brand followers, it's a good way to show off their personal tastes and preferences, and they can choose whether or not to show the logo. Here's an example - the top line shows logos that are displayed, and the ones below are logos that have been hidden.
Using WeChat as a marketing tool. There are a number of effective tools for building a relationship on the WeChat platform.
1. Set up and encourage a relationship with followers.
Campaign tool 1 - drift bottle. Users can choose voice or text messages to make a "drift bottle," which they throw into a virtual "sea." If someone picks up the bottle, they can start a conversion.
Case study: A bank ran a campaign called Charity Drift Bottle. If someone picked up the bottle and replied to the message, they made an automatic contribution to a charity for children with autism. According to the statistics, there was a one in 10 chance of picking up one of the bank's drift bottles during the campaign.
Campaign tool 2 - QR code. Users can add a friend or follow public accounts by scanning their QR code. It's a good way for brands to start an O2O (online to offline) model (which combines digital and real-life actions) by setting up their own QR code, then attracting people with information about discounts and special offers, designed to drive them to brick-and-mortar stores.
Case Study: Joycity shopping mall used a QR code to start its membership scheme. Customers can get an e-membership card once they scan the code, giving them access to special member discounts. Forty retailers, including Starbucks and Levi's, have gotten involved.
Campaign tool 3 - Find people nearby. WeChat offers location-based services - users can choose "find people nearby" under the "friend" option. Brand accounts can find their target clients through the "person near you" function and push messages to them.
Case Study: A newly opened convenience store used "person near you" to say "hi" to all the people nearby and to introduce the store.
2. Content sharing using creative execution
Social share - open platform. Developers can now submit third-party applications to WeChat's open platform.
Case study: The Meili Shuo (online social community where users can recommend good cosmetic or clothing brands to each other) app allows users to share interesting finds with their friends.
Voice message. Instead of a standard text message, voice messaging is a creative way to spread information to a target audience.
Case study: Intel used the voice message function to report sports news three times a day during the London Olympic Games.
Multimedia interactivity. It's possible to make use of all of WeChat's messaging, image, and video features to develop a rich and innovative interactive campaign.
Case study: The Metropolitan Museum of Art worked with WeChat to construct an exhibition - "Earth, Sea and Sky: Nature in Western Art" - on the National Museum of China's platform, where users could text the code of a particular work of art, then receive a picture of the masterpiece accompanied by an informative voice video. The platform also provided an exhibition map, ticket booking facilities, and the latest museum news and updates.
Think Before You Act
The opportunities for brands to use WeChat as an innovative channel for spreading the message about their products and services are clearly growing. But, as with every venture into new digital territory, the golden rule is "think before you act." While WeChat is currently very popular with users, brands still need to think it through when they're planning to use the platform. WeChat is certainly not right for every brand, and it still has some flaws.
For example, WeChat is not an appropriate marketing tool for new brands, as it is not an all-encompassing platform - rather, it's a strong, closed, intimate social circle. Efficiency of promotion cannot be compared to other social platforms such as Weibo, where everyone can see the content.
It's a better fit for already influential brands, or brands that can use O2O services to attract an audience.
What's more, customer services on WeChat currently only cover text message, voice message, and video, which cannot be applied to a mass audience. This might change once Tencent opens enough APIs to get connected with CRM software, or Tencent works with ERP software directly - then WeChat may become an efficient social CRM foundation platform.
Currently, marketing results for WeChat are hard to evaluate because, unlike Weibo, so far there are no open data source tools to record interaction.
It's clear that the Tencent team is still making improvements to WeChat - for example, McDonald's is testing in-app purchases, offering WeChat users a special discount that they can only get by purchasing tea from McDonald's within the app. It's in trial at the moment, but it looks set to be rolled out along with a number of other enhancements when the WeChat 5.0 update is officially launched. While we don't know what WeChat will look like in the future, brands can always use this time as an observation period, then jump in when it's right for them.
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Elisa Harca is a digital retail and engagement expert with more than 13 years' experience working with some of the world's leading brands, including Swatch, MAC Cosmetics, Samsung, and Ericsson. She has worked with clients extensively in North America, Europe, and most recently Asia, and at Red Ant she is responsible for leading teams of digital specialists in Hong Kong and China in bringing its award-winning mobile retail technology to businesses across the territory. Recommended as an expert digital and mobile consultant by market leaders, she is a regular speaker at industry events including The HUB and UKTI's GREAT Weeks, and also hosts workshops for high-profile industry executives. Elisa is recognized worldwide for her professionalism, integrity, and her ability to help retailers navigate the increasingly complex global digital landscape.
Hong Kong, May 5-6, 2015
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