Most marketers with their eyes on the China market will have heard of WeChat by now, China’s most popular social app.
WeChat now has surpassed over 1 billion monthly active users as of March 2018, thanks to a series of promotions rolled out during the Chinese New Year. Because of the restrictions the Chinese government places on internet access, popular platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are blocked in China, and unavailable for marketers to use to target the Chinese audience.
Right off the bat, this makes things trickier for any international brand looking to raise brand awareness in China and engage with fans – not only does a brand need to localize their messaging, but they will need to completely adapt their social media marketing strategy and channel.
WeChat is often referred to as China’s answer to Facebook – it’s a huge mistake for western brands to look at WeChat this way. WeChat is not Facebook, and will never be Facebook – it is in fact much more and Facebook has even started to emulate some features of WeChat.
WeChat is a messaging app, a social media platform, a mobile payment tool, a search engine and so much more all rolled into one.
So how can brands adapt a global strategy to reach their target audience online in China?
As a marketing manager, you’ll need to do your research – download WeChat, find some official accounts of other brands to follow, send messages, post on Moments (similar to Facebook’s News Feed). Get your whole team comfortable with using the app so that when you do create your Official Account for your brand and begin crafting content, you have a feel for how articles look within WeChat, how people will share and post content, as well as the myriad of other functions available.
Becoming comfortable with the app itself will allow you to make much more informed decisions when working with your local team on the ground in China, or even if you’ll be needing to create & publish content in-house.
How can brands use WeChat?
There are now several different ways brands can establish themselves on WeChat, the most common way being opening an Official Account. An Official Account allows a brand to create an account and publish content from this account that gets sent to followers.
This is how brands can raise brand awareness, by publishing content that gets shared between friends, in group messages, and on users’ Moments. There are two types of Official Accounts a brand can have; Service and Subscription.
1. Service Account
For most brands, a Service Account is the best option. Anytime a Service Account publishes content it appears as a direct message among the followers’ personal chat log.
This means more visibility and a higher probability your message will be opened, read and shared.
A Service Account is limited to publishing content to four times per month, however each time you publish, you are able to publish up to eight separate articles within each post.
While this may sound limiting, four posts per month is enough for most brands. It is important to only publish extremely high-value content.
There are millions of Service Accounts, all vying for attention, and over the past years as the number of accounts has drastically increased, reads have gone down.
Never publish just to publish. Remember, your content will appear among a fan’s personal messages, if they find your content annoying or useless just once, they will unfollow you.
2. Subscription Account
The other type of account brands can have is a Subscription Account. This allows brands to publish content once per day, however, all Subscription Accounts live in a Subscription Account folder which users have to actively check for new posts.
A red dot indicates new messages, and this is where it can really pay off to publish at precisely the right time of day to get your account on top of the heap.
Subscription Accounts are good for news outlets or brands who often have promotions.
Again, just because you have the opportunity to publish content each day, be mindful – is this really going to deliver value to your followers?
If you are a Subscription Account your content will have to be especially engaging and memorable, as you will need followers to actively check your account for new content.
Once you have your Official Account set up how do you spread the word and get more followers? There are several ways to promote your content on WeChat, and most of them are not cheap.
1. QR Code
While QR codes have been deemed as ugly and awkward in the west, in China they are everywhere. But this doesn’t mean people will just go about scanning your QR code, you’ll need to give people a reason to follow your account. Create a game where participants can win prizes, put your QR code on products, or hold relevant offline events.
2. KOL aka Influencers
Known as influencers in the west, KOLs, or Key Opinion Leaders are social media savvy individuals who have built up a considerable following on WeChat or other Chinese social media platforms.
They are not necessarily celebrities, but bloggers, or industry experts that have built up a loyal fan base.
Due to the nature of the digital landscape in China, influencer marketing campaigns are much more common and much more effective than in western markets.
Chinese consumers are much more comfortable with paid-partnerships and turn to their favorite KOLs for recommendations on everything from lipstick to baby formula.
In fact, a recent study by Accenture showed “Up to 70% of Chinese Gen Z consumers – or those born after 1995 – say they prefer to buy products directly via social media, compared to a global average of 44%” Chinese consumers increasingly turn to social media to research trends, brands, and products.
The same study from Accenture found that 58% of Gen Z respondents said that social media has played a bigger part in their purchase decision-making within the last year.
In a market that is often riddled by scandals of brands selling fake products, KOLs have been able to build a much stronger bridge of trust with their fans than brands in China have been able to.
3. Moments Ads
WeChat recently began allowing brands to advertise on users’ Moments. A Moments feed is similar to a Facebook feed where a user can see friends’ shared photos, articles, or status updates.
Unlike platforms such as Twitter, or video platforms, WeChat has guarded users against ads quite protectively.
As of now, a user will only see one or two moments ads per day.
These slots are mostly filled by luxury or car brands as the price for WeChat Moments advertising is quite high, starting at ¥50,000 RMB for Chinese companies (almost $8,000 USD) to run a campaign.
Not only is the price hefty, but segmentation and targeting options are limited and more basic than marketers using Facebook or Instagram will be used to.
The most popular WeChat Moments ads in 2017 according to consumers are from brands such as Adidas, BMW, and Jimmy Choo.
If you are not a luxury or well-known brand, Moments ads are likely not going to give you the most bang for your buck.
4. Banner Ads
Another option for brands are WeChat banner ads, and they aren’t cheap either, expect to pay around the same as Moments ads just to start a campaign.
Banner ads appear at the end of an article published by an Official Account.
Say you are following a news outlet, you might see a banner ad for a travel agency appear at the end of an article about the top 10 things to do that weekend.
One article can have multiple ads alternating in this space depending on how they have set things up.
In late 2016, Tencent began to offer brands and advertisers the option for two-way-pick banner ads.
This is where brands with Official Accounts can sell the space to an advertiser and set the price and determine a guaranteed view rate – payment is made based on performance.
It should be noted that only accounts with more than 20,000 followers are eligible to use this specific feature.
Like Moments ads, banner ads are expensive and even less effective.
5. Mini programs
An app within an app, sounds a bit like Inception to you?
In its quest to become the only app you’ll ever need, Tencent rolled out the WeChat mini program’s platform early in 2017, but they did not start to gain traction until late in 2017 when WeChat released mini games.
Mini programs are apps within WeChat, built using WeChat’s programing language and less data-heavy than regular iOS or Android apps.
Take Mobike for example, one of the most popular bike-sharing companies in China, has a mini app which allows users to find nearby bikes, unlock them by scanning a QR code, and pay for the ride – all while never leaving WeChat.
Tencent has made significant changes and investments into mini programs within the last year.
If you search within WeChat for a brand name or key term, any relevant or associated mini program will appear as the top search result.
Once a user has clicked on your mini program, it is automatically added to their list – living right above current messages.
While relatively new, and not for every brand, mini programs can be worth looking into as a way to engage, and stay connected with customers.
Take a deep breath
Learning an entirely different platform can be daunting, so take it step by step;
- Get comfortable using WeChat
- Decide which type of account will allow you to provide the most value to your target audience
- Determine a content strategy – what type of content are you going to post and how often?
- Determine how you will measure success – it may not be number of followers
- Constantly evaluate performance – the digital landscape in China changes rapidly, make sure you’re using the right tools to reach a Chinese audience on social media
- Consider tools like MavSocial to help preview, schedule and post to ALL your social media accounts
And stay tuned for more articles about WeChat marketing.