Most of us have already noticed that MIM (Mobile Instant Messaging) is the next big thing in digital media. The challenge is even though traffic is huge with plenty of users on the platform, I bet most marketers still have not figured out the best way to engage customers through MIM, me neither.
I am writing this article after learning one of the hottest MIM platforms, WeChat, is approaching 300 million users worldwide. WeChat is a homegrown MIM app from China and aggressively marketed in other non-Chinese speaking communities such as Southeast Asia and India.
For most marketers, especially those with presence in China these days, it would be insane if you ignore this fastest growing digital platform.
WeChat recently launched its 4.5 version and two of its most significant enhancements include:
1. Live Chat: You can form groups and transform the handset to be a private radio channel among your selected friends. Your group members can then start a live group chat.
2. Voice reminder: A Siri-inspired function. Speak to your phone and leave a request such as “Remind me at 5 p.m. to submit my ClickZ column.” Then the alarm is all set in both voice and text. (Available in simplified Chinese, only supports Mandarin voice input.)
I tested it during the holidays and found these functions pretty awesome. In addition to its core walkie-talkie voice chat function; you can tell that voice communication will be the competitive edge for WeChat. This is the area they will continue to innovate and marketers should also pay attention to in the near future.
For starters, there are some basic principles we should be aware of. I compiled my personal top three list as follows:
1. Define the role of WeChat in your brand’s digital ecosystem
Weibo or WeChat? This is no longer an “either or” question. These are two completely different platforms. Period.
Weibo is a platform best for broadcasting timely content and frequent updates, whereas WeChat is the opposite. However, WeChat is a great gateway to bridge your customers between the offline and online world. Or you can call it O2O, a popular marketing jargon these days. Whether it is for long-term strategy or short-term tactics, it’s better to plan ahead and deploy the roles between Weibo and WeChat to avoid duplicating your marketing efforts.
As a corporate account user, you are allowed to publish content only once a day. And you have to carefully pick the right time because you don’t want to annoy your customers while they are asleep or busy. Lazy marketers/agencies will only copy and paste the same content they post on Weibo or other social networks. They will consider WeChat as one of many channels to blast their generic promotional content. However, marketers should consider WeChat as a tool or gateway for campaign activations.
2. Define your content strategy
The best way to use WeChat for marketing is not merely for publishing content. You need a different mindset when constructing your content strategy.
There is a CMS platform for corporate users to perform basic content management. However, the data you could receive to track the interaction and traffic is very limited. Even worse, the analytic tool WeChat provides is also very primitive. The maximum historical data you can receive only have one week of lifespan.
There are five types of content that you can publish:
1. Text 2. Audio 3. Visual 4. Text+Visual (an editorial-like small article) 5. Video.
Typical ways to apply WeChat in your marketing activities include:
1. Delivering e-coupon 2. Issuing virtual VIP card 3. Sending promotional offer notification.
WeChat may not be the most ideal place to initiate a conversation with your customers (imagine you need resources to manage them literally one by one), you can prescribe a list of customized responses beforehand.
A welcome message to the new joiners is a critical first step. Then you can initiate the conversation by asking questions proactively in order to divert inquiries to different sets of prescribed answers. Think of it as how most automated call centers work. You can define responses that co-relate to various keywords. And there are no limits to the number of keywords. For responses, you can use the five types of content I mentioned earlier. Additionally, you can also choose to respond with a URL of your mobile-friendly site.
So what can you ask your customers back? Besides the most common text message, you can also ask your users their current location. If your brand/marketing activity has a physical outlet, this will be a great way to bring your customers to a specific location. Of course, an instant reward is always recommended.
3. Promote your WeChat QR code
Although WeChat has already improved its search engine for corporate accounts, the chances of your customers actively looking for your WeChat account are still slim. The good news is consumers in major cities of China are already familiar with this “scan and add” activity through a brand’s WeChat QR code. Since growing your fan base should always be your long-term WeChat strategy, you should be actively converting fans through various means, offline and online.
If you are managing your retail chains or outlets, make sure your brand’s QR code is featured in all the point of purchase materials even if it is a tray mat (believe it or not, actually it is one of the most effective media to advertise your QR code). More importantly, you should always give a simple reason for a customer to scan your QR code. For example, small incentives such as 1. discount 2. top up promotion for any purchase 3. souvenir 4. lucky draw 5. free Wi-Fi pass code, are always welcomed by customers.
However, you don’t need to over-advertise your QR code. For example, don’t bother to feature it on any moving objects (e.g., bus panel) or transit area (e.g., posters on a busy train station’s tunnel).
Having your brand’s QR code on your packaging is also another way to connect with customers. But remember, no one wants to receive your ad messages unless you give him/her a good reason.
If your brand has already built a decent number of followers on Weibo or other social networks, make sure to leverage them. Featuring your brand’s WeChat QR code on your Weibo page and promoting your WeChat activity through the wall posts are two basic tactics you should consider.
As Tencent still shows no sign of how it is going to monetize WeChat, there is no business model/customized solution to negotiate with WeChat (yet). Unlike other mainstream social networks that are keen to attract advertisers, statistics and information to learn about WeChat and how good or bad other corporate WeChat accounts are doing have been extremely limited.
Having said that, as this is the place to fish where the fish are, the best way to do it is to do it. Nothing will be more valuable than test driving it and learning about it even at this preliminary stage. In the long run, you will have a head-start at least in understanding your customers’ behavior and accumulating fans before your competitors.