What’s Next for Social Media Marketing in China: Weibo or WeChat?

While some brands have just started to capture the essence of weibo marketing, they are now asked to eye on the latest social media platform – WeChat.

Originated by Tencent, the Chinese Internet giant, WeChat claimed to have acquired 100 million registered users (since the launch of its beta version in Aug 2011).

WeChat is essentially the ‘killer app’ for Tencent in the complicated Chinese social media environment. The app is highly mobile-focused, and it combines functions such as instant text and audio messaging (like Whatsapp or Viber), photo sharing (like Instagram and Facebook), weibo (like Twitter), location based friend finder and even QR code. It is a social + mobile ‘all-in-one’ application.

It certainly is a big leap for Tencent to rewrite its own social media history. Tencent is famous for its 700 million users on QQ, the first desktop instant messaging in China, and being the top internet company that has created the highest revenues from online games.

However, it was challenged in the social media competition with the dramatic growth of SNS such as Renren and Kaixin001, and of course the Chinese twitter Sina Weibo. WeChat is the answer from Tencent to compete for the ever-growing traffic to social media, especially from the mass market.

More importantly, the app supports both Chinese and English, and is linked to Facebook and Twitter. Apart from China, users from Russia, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. can download the WeChat mobile app for free.

And it’s a big step for Tencent to expand its presence internationally.

So what’s in it for advertisers?

While Sina Weibo is positioned to target a more upscale market – with celebrities, luxury and fashion brands being the first ones to register their ‘V accounts’ (verified or VIP accounts); Tencent could effectively focus more on its popularity in the mass market for an easy win – Tencent can effortlessly mobilize its existing 700 million users to become WeChat members.

The launch of WeChat may therefore be game changing. Combining China with the fastest-growing Southeast Asian countries, it will naturally be the biggest challenge to the leading social and mobile app Facebook.

Brands like Nike and Uniqlo have already started their ‘brand account’ on WeChat. Nike’s ‘Sports-on-the-Go’ encouraged fans to subscribe to the Nike WeChat account, and subscribers will be pushed with daily news feeds. Uniqlo’s subscribers will be sent daily and weekly special products or sale offers.

One interesting thing about WeChat is the ‘Chat’ part – as you subscribe to follow a brand account, you can enter into a ‘one-on-one’ direct chat room with the brand. You are really ‘chatting’ with a brand (if the brand account decides to answer back). For the brands, it will be a new way to open up direct communications and even establishing a CRM system.

You can continue to socialize with your fans on Weibo. But you can now also choose to pull some of your fans aside and talk directly. One-to-many or One-on-one? Elite or Mass? It’s totally up to you.

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