Our lead social marketer Estrella Yang has narrowed down 6 WeChat features she believes small businesses must understand. She teamed up with Georgia Cassidy, a marketing student at the University of Auckland, who has written up the following insights for Western businesses looking to get their WeChat account off the ground in China…
WeChat can be tough to get your head around. Believe me, coming from a Western understanding of social media (I habitually scroll my FB/Instagram newsfeed) I was both intrigued and perplexed when I first dove into the world of WeChat. The internet is ripe with do’s and don’ts on WeChat, in fact the sheer volume of material to sift through can be overwhelming! Especially when you haven’t got a solid understanding of what the features are and how they work. So this post is back to basics with a breakdown of the key features on WeChat that small businesses must know.
Since Nanjing Marketing Group’s last blog posts about WeChat, the app has continued along its trajectory of rapid growth. In the past fortnight WeChat’s creator Tencent released their Q4 2015 stats; monthly active users (MAUs) has reached a new peak of 697million. Despite being originally launched as an instant messaging (IM) app back in 2011, today WeChat bears closer resemblance to a mobile operating system through its ‘apps within an app’ business model.
First point to note is that apps within WeChat are often termed ‘official accounts’, they’re simply a public account type which can be further subdivided into either subscription or service (read more here). At current, more than ten million official accounts live in WeChat, like pages within a book. Official accounts essentially replicate an app environment; they’re generally operated by brands/celebrities/businesses. Personal WeChat users can add official accounts in a process similar to adding a friend on Facebook. Official accounts allow businesses the unique benefits of a customized digital space which simultaneously synergises with their brand message and enables personalized communication with customers.
For personal users, access to official accounts removes the hassle of having to download individual apps separately by providing one location for accessing everything; from ordering food to booking a medical appointment. Together, official accounts and the inbuilt WeChat features operate to address a personal user’s hourly needs.
For example, within the WeChat wallet feature, users can hail a cab.
Or by adding official accounts, users can personally interact with a brand’s content, receiving updates about new product lines and weekly in store offers. The customized interaction enables brands to give away special offers specifically to their WeChat followers. Industry commentators have called WeChat ‘the next generation of customer relationships management in China’.
An official account gives businesses access to free software development kits. The open platform feature allows businesses to personalize their application programming interfaces (APIs) giving them control over how users view their messaging/content/payment features within their official account. Perhaps most importantly, this co-creation empowers businesses with the ability to customize how they reach out to their customers. What’s more, (for a small fee) WeChat’s open platform can provide businesses with personal software developers who can navigate the technical logistics of adding/customizing new APIs (e.g. you can hire a developer to add a chat feature to your official account, enabling you to converse with your customers).
E-commerce capabilities can be custom built into your official account through a free third party service called WeChat store. Not only does this remove the hassle of technical programming, WeChat store’s customized interface enables businesses to link their bank accounts/monitor sales data/track orders and view their store from the end user’s perspective. Businesses can list their products/services (adding prices/descriptions) to the WeChat store and the update will automatically sync within their official account.
The e-commerce capability enables personal users who follow your official account to browse your brand’s products/services. Your official account is integrated with WeChat payment to enable a seamless shopping experience. Users never even have to leave your official account within the WeChat app to make a purchase. With accessibility like this we can begin to understand how mobile commerce achieves those staggering figures we keep hearing: m-commerce in China surpassed $333bn in 2015 and is forecast for $505bn this year.
Personal users can add their credit cards to their ‘WeChat wallet’. The wallet can be used to pay for goods/services within official accounts using the ‘WeChat Payment’ feature. WeChat Payment enables businesses to directly sell their products/services to customers over their official account. This in-app feature is transforming how transactions between customers and businesses take place in China. Even offline, scanning QR codes at the supermarket counter (which links to the user’s WeChat wallet) is becoming a widespread payment method. WeChat’s cleverly integrated payment system is part of the reason China’s m-commerce accounted for almost half of e-commerce in 2015.
QR codes form an integral role in social communication in China. There are many reasons for its development, chief among them the fact that QR codes contain URLs, the majority of which are in English. Simply scanning a QR code is a far quicker way to access online information and removes the issue of typing in a foreign language. Each personal user’s WeChat account is embedded with a QR reader.
QR codes drive online to offline traffic. Given that businesses can only communicate with personal users who have added their official account, there is hot competition for businesses trying to amass followers on WeChat. QR codes are an incredibly useful tool for businesses to convert brick and mortar store customers into digital subscribers. They also eliminate the effort of trying to search for the brand online. This instant connectivity enables businesses to improve customer engagement by sending personalized digital content.
Coupons are an excellent way to incentivize personal users to add your official account. They can be distributed after a personal user scans your QR code, or issued to consumers browsing your store in a bid to increase the likelihood of purchase. There are a whole range of distribution methods and coupon-use can be tagged and monitored which enables businesses to learn more about their user’s behaviour. Late last year, WeChat launched a ‘friends-shared coupons’ feature. Personal users can browse their ‘friends-shared coupons’ and personally use them when dining/shopping. The ramifications of this are still being explored, but the ability for users to see how their friends are interacting with brands opens a world of opportunities. ‘Friends shared coupons’ serves as a reminder that despite its e-commerce capabilities, WeChat is inherently social in nature.
Within todays post one common theme rings loud and clear; WeChat is continually evolving. The platform’s brief history serves a critical lesson for businesses hoping to make it in China: build with a customer-oriented approach.
Our final feature is a testament to WeChat’s evolution and customer orientation. The ‘people nearby’ feature utilizes your smartphone’s GPS connection to find friends nearby or discover new friends using the ‘look around’ section. This feature is the latest to emerge with potential as a promotional tool. At the moment personal users can only search for other personal users. So business owners have begun launching personal accounts, and then changing the personal introduction to a business introduction. For example, in the yellow frame (image below) the user gives directions to their Taobao shop number. This is a clever trick for businesses to pull in street traffic and is yet another example of WeChat’s marketing potential.
With 697MAUs on WeChat, most businesses assume that if they can reach even an infinitesimal fraction – they’re all set. Wrong. Despite the allure of WeChat’s convenient functionality and gigantic user base, the quality of the official account determines their businesses success. From the outset, WeChat should be approached like any other communication channel: with a clear strategy that combines original posts with content that synergises with the customer. A user friendly layout is critical for success on WeChat and all features must deliver a compelling proposition if your official account is going to capture value in China.