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WeChat Official Accounts and What This Means for Marketers

  |  November 18, 2013   |  Comments   |  

As a brand, you'll be forced to choose between a service or subscription account. Here are the pros and cons of each.

WeChat is growing in warp speed. With a history of only 2.5 years, it already has over 400 million registered users worldwide (source: China Daily). Besides China, the mobile app is expanding rapidly in Southeast Asia such as Malaysia, Thailand, India, and Hong Kong.

It’s also evolving and adding new functions in an attempt to become the world’s most popular mobile messaging app.

WeChat 5.0, which launched in August demonstrated how ambitious it wants to become in mobile commerce, gaming, and CRM (customer relationship management).

I previously wrote some articles about WeChat here: 10 FAQs on WeChat for Marketers, Best Practices for WeChat Marketing.

Looking forward, the latest version has a few essential features that marketers might find confusing and should be aware of.

Previously, all WeChat official accounts (branded accounts) that you’ve subscribed will appear on the same page as your personal contacts.

Under the new WeChat 5.0, all official accounts are structured into two different types: Service Account and Subscription Account.

As a brand, you’ll be forced to choose one of these types.

From a user perspective, you’ll be bombarded much less by the subscribed brand account and you’ll be able to initiate communication or receive messages only if you want to.

For marketers, you’ll be further discouraged to use WeChat as a broadcast platform the way you might do in other social media channels. From an agency point of view, I think it’s a positive new rule because brands are forced to build a better interactive experience with consumers.

Below the two types of official accounts, which will affect marketers the most.

1.Services Account

Your brand account will sit next to a user’s contact list. Every time you update your content, subscribers will get an alert and you can also chat with them directly from a user chat window.

Sounds good right? However, the challenge is you can only blast message to your subscribers once a month.

Because WeChat has been trying to promote its platform as a mobile destination for customer services for brands. This new feature drives WeChat further towards this direction.

By creating a navigation bar underneath a Service Account, a brand can actually create a mini-mobile site to serve its content to subscribers. Instead of setting up an automated response for prescribed keywords, all content can now be on-demand for customers.

One of the most commonly used features for brands is the store locator, a user can just share her current location to a Service Account then it will return with the list of the nearest stores or even a mobile map.

A brand can also leverage one-to-one communication as an extension of its CRM program. For example, Louis Vuitton integrates its Services Account with a live customer service assistant to answer customers’ queries. Luxury brands or financial institutions such as China Merchant Bank usually prefer the Services Account. Other brands like Southern China Airline even integrate its membership card, check-in services, ticket booking, and other services into its WeChat account.

But don’t get too excited yet. The function of syncing a credit card with your personal WeChat account is only available in China at the moment. However, you can predict there will be deeper integration of WeChat with a brand’s CRM platform to roll out in other markets in the foreseeable future.

2. Subscription Account (Displayed as Official Account)

Similar to previous version, brands can broadcast message daily and manage followers with a basic CMS tool. However, after the launch of version 5.0, all Subscription Accounts are grouped together in one place. Subscribers will not receive notification if there’s new content update. They also have to open the subfolder of the Subscription Accounts in order to access a particular brand.

To brands, it’ll become extremely challenging not only for the open rate of its daily content but also to maintain a regular conversation with followers. Having said that, consumer brands such as McDonald’s Hong Kong or Uniqlo China, which consistently provide special offers to customers will find that the new changes still work pretty well because consumers have already been trained to find out the latest offers or product information.

For a brand or publisher such as a magazine that provides quality content to attract subscribers to open the account on a regular basis (think about opt-in email), the Subscription Account also works as a sustainable platform.

Key takeaways:

  • Reset your mindset when considering WeChat as a broadcast channel to push content.
  • One-to-one relationship is becoming essential on WeChat.
  • Define the role of your client’s WeChat account in the company’s digital ecosystem. For example, differentiate the role if your client has already developed a branded mobile app and mobile site.
  • If your client wants to go after the CRM route, make sure there’s enough additional resources prepared. CRM can be a labor-intensive exercise.
  • Help clients better understand the pros and cons of both types of Official Accounts and which route they should go for. As you won’t be able to freely switch between both types once decision has been made.

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Rudi Leung

Rudi Leung is general manager, director of digital and social at Tribal DDB/ DDB Group Hong Kong and Guangzhou. He was formerly director of communication planning at AGENDA, an interactive agency network under the WPP/Wunderman group in Asia. He is also an exco member of Hong Kong Association of Interactive Marketing. Rudi previously held roles as VP of Carat Media Services, creative ambassador of Yahoo HK Media Services, and creative director of TBWA\Tequila\HK. In addition to his extensive experience as a creative director and copywriter in numerous leading 4As ad agencies including Ogilvy & Mather, Leo Burnett, and Bates, he has gained wide exposure in advertising for numerous MNC and local advertisers in the last 18 years. Besides advertising, Rudi is a part-time lecturer of HKU Space since 2007. In his leisure, Rudi is an active blogger and columnist of ClickZ, e-Zone, HK Economic Journal, and MetroPop Weekly. He holds an MBA from Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Graduate Diploma in Business Administration from UC Berkeley Extension, and Bachelor of Arts in Music from Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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