WeChat's New Pay-to-Read Feature: What Is It and How Can Brands Use It?

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 16:48

Recently, a well-known technology blogger Keso posted a WeChat moment, saying "the WeChat official accounts pay-to-read feature is a little bit late, but it's finally coming".

His post attracted everybody's attention and then he said, the specific launch time still remains unknown, but Pony Ma (the president of Tencent) said it would be ready right away.

The history of WeChat pay-to-read feature

In fact, talk of the WeChat pay-to-read feature goes way back to the WeChat public class held in August, 2015. At that time, the WeChat team said they would execute multiple incentives including the pay-to-read feature as a way to foster the creation of original content in the future. It left people with a lot of room for imagination.


During the Spring Festival in 2016, WeChat initiated a time-limited trial of the "blurry photos" campaign, allowing people to upload blurry photos, which could then be "unlocked" by sending a "red envelope" (a small amount of money) from others.

It caused a buzz among WeChat users. A survey of 17,000 mobile users indicated that 86% of participants thought the promotion was "too boring", while 12% showed they enjoyed it and would be happy to see the event again.


On the night of 6th August, 2016, a prominent blogger @Things about Internet (互联网的那些事) posted a WeChat moment, saying the pay-to-read feature of WeChat official accounts will be introduced soon and here came along with a screenshot of the homepage of a WeChat official account named "China entertainment" (思变华娱乐), which clearly showed the "pay-to-read" module at the bottom of the image.


Late 7th August, the status of "China entertainment" was "cancelled". Then the senior director of Tencent WeChat security risk control center released a post on Weibo, admitting that "China entertainment" was a test account used by the WeChat development team, but he didn't disclose any further information, and instead just said "please don't think too much."


On 25th November, 2016, a WeChat user reported that he could set up the payment amount of pay-to-read content in WeChat official account management platform. But then this function couldn't be used anymore.


The time is ripe for WeChat's pay-to-read feature?

Nowadays, paid products are everywhere. Q&A platforms like Fenda demand users pay to ask questions; the podcast channel "Have a good talk" (好好说话) sells audio lessons on Himalaya FM; 36 Kr opened a pay column by inviting famous writers to join in and create original articles for readers.


Why did WeChat choose to activate the pay-to-read feature at this time?

1. Increased acceptance to pay for knowledge.

Knowledge monetization has become a buzzword since 2016 and it excites the self-media people. "2016 China paid knowledge industry development white paper" showed that user's willingness to pay for valuable content and knowledge and their consumption attitudes are shifting, from never willing to pay to willing to pay for high-quality products and services; User's access to information is also changing, from aimlessly accepting information to initiatively acquiring knowledge, their behaviors of choosing information are more mature.


2. The upfront groundwork for WeChat pay-to-read feature is complete.

Following the recent upgrade of WeChat's search function and the addition of articles' "stick to top" function, the timing seems to right.


The upgrade of search function

Before the Spring Festival, WeChat search function newly added search items such as novel, music, expression, and the search for "moments" and "articles" has been optimized, by entering a WeChat official account's name + keywords, users can accurately locate its history articles. It's very convenient for users to find what they are interested in and willing to pay for among a huge amounts of resources.


The articles "stick to top" function

WeChat's latest version added a new feature: articles from WeChat official accounts can be placed at the top of user's conversation lists if they want to read them later. When you are browsing an article, but suddenly you want to return to chat or do something else, just click "the three points" on the top right corner, and the "stick the article to the top of your conversation list" option will appear. With this function, if you haven't digested the paid articles or you are disturbed by other things, you can place them at the top first, no need to search them again, which is really convenient.


The expansion and perfection of the protection scope of original content

Now more and more WeChat official accounts have received original content invitations from WeChat. The scope of the protection of original content is increasingly widely, from original articles to original images to original videos.


Pay-to-read income as subsidies for WeChat official accounts which offer original content, there is no doubt that it will become another source of their revenue besides advertising.


How to seize the opportunity of the WeChat pay-to-read feature?

People have split opinions on this feature. Some people think that free content already has no one reading, so pay-to-read will be even harder to gain readership for. And others think, based on the success of so many paid products, it proves that there is still much market potential.

WeChat pay-to-read feature is about the personalization and specialization of original content, users can get real benefits after paying. Therefore, to WeChat official accounts, there are a few things more and more clear:


1. Users are more willing to pay for valuable original content.

The pay-to-read feature gives account owners a new way to monetize high-quality content. This should further increase the amount of high-quality original content on WeChat.


Since WeChat first launched official accounts in 2012, we've seen accounts copy content from each other, some use sensational headlines to lure clicks, but the titles don't even match the content at all etc.


For now, most WeChat official accounts are difficult to reach the standard for paying content, once paid, user's expectations will increase greatly. In addition, after the data showed that a third of WeChat official accounts stopped updating more, pay-to-read feature is a kind of new test for content quality and update frequency. And of course, WeChat's regulations for pay-to-read content will be stricter.


2. Clarify your orientation, understand your readers better and see if your WeChat official accounts really fit for pay-to-read feature.

Now a lot of people don't believe in WeChat mini programs, there are voices in the industry saying "WeChat mini programs are going to die". I think people agree that not every industry or product is suitable for mini programs, and the same is true for the WeChat pay-to-read feature. First, brands need to make sure they have a clear business model and brand positioning in mind.


There are some WeChat official accounts which have already realized the pay-to-read feature on other platforms, and the original content they offer are mostly about knowledge sharing, tutorial classes these kinds of real stuff, such as the famous self-media "Logic thinking" (罗辑思维) and "Xiaobo Wu Channel" (吴晓波频道). So this type of WeChat official accounts are more likely to share a cup of soup in WeChat pay-to-read territory.


3. The price setting is proportional to user's expectations.

How can you make your users be willing to pay for your content? And how can you set an appropriate price at the same time? According to the previous reveal about the price setting for WeChat pay-to-read feature, single article prices can be set in the range of 0-200 RMB. So here comes the question, how much should you charge? How much free content should you release?


Of course, the price shouldn't be too high, the best way is to take some existing successful paid reading products as references, for example, Q&A platforms such as Fenda and Weibo Wenda, the answerer usually only charges users 1-2 RMB to listen or read the answer, but with a huge amount of fans, the answer can be worth hundreds, even thousands RMB in the end.


Brands should approach the pay to read feature like selling fruit – let consumers have a small sample for free, and then decide if they want to buy more. So it's very important that you at least make a wonderful introduction to tell users how they can benefit from paying to read your articles.


In fact, for WeChat official accounts the pay-to-read feature is also a "fan washing" tool, it can help you to screen loyal users who approve the value of your accounts and are willing to pay for your content. So the number of readers may be less than for free content, but the conversion rate will likely be higher. And that seems to fit WeChat's concept of "even small individuals have their own brand". Users being willing to pay is the best and strongest proof of the value of your brand.


However, WeChat's pay-to-read feature has not yet officially launched, so it's not yet clear just how it'll work out.


What is your opinion about this? Are you planning to set a pay-to-read feature for your WeChat official account? Welcome to leave a comment and discuss with us.


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