by Ker Zheng
WeChat, with its billion-plus users, is more than just a messaging app. Messaging drives traffic on WeChat, but it's content that keeps the users engaged. That's why one-third of WeChat users spend over four hours a day on the app.
For brands, the challenge is creating content that keeps users engaged and that also educates them about their products. In China e-commerce, fraudulent/shoddy goods are commonplace. Not only is content used to get fans excited about one's products, but it's also used to help gain consumer trust.
And yet, WeChat has major limitations that make it difficult for smaller brands to build a following on the platform. We talk about these limitations and why influencers are so important to WeChat marketing.
WeChat as a Content Marketing Tool
On WeChat, brands can create Official Accounts - brand pages that users can follow. WeChat Official Accounts enable brands to push content to users. This can include text, video, audio, and even more interactive H5 campaigns that include games or flashy slide shows.
Here, Burberry launches a co-branded collection with Vivienne Westwood
If you're an overseas brand operating a service account, then you can send content once a week to your followers - content that will show up in one's chat window. We give an overview of official accounts and their characteristics here.
However, WeChat has two main disadvantages when it comes to marketing.
WeChat's Closed Nature Makes It Difficult for Brands to Penetrate
WeChat is a closed private network that places a high emphasis on protecting users' privacy. A user's WeChat activity and profile is closed off to strangers. Strangers cannot view the WeChat Moments (news feeds) or comments of users they are not connected to, even if they are a friend of a friend.
For example, if a friend posts an image on WeChat and nine of his friends leave a comment, if I'm not friends with any of them, then I can't see any of those comments. Nor can I see their profiles. This limits content on WeChat from going viral.
Advertising Options on WeChat are Limited
Unfortunately, advertising options on WeChat are also limited. Moments (news feed) ads are very expensive (at least 50,000 RMB per campaign), less targeted, and out of reach for many smaller brands.
The other type of ads is banner ads that are placed at the bottom of official account articles. These are more affordable but have less direct reach.
In Facebook, registered users give data on their interests, hobbies, and background. With this data the targeting options for Facebook ads are very sophisticated. WeChat doesn't explicitly ask its users for this information when they sign up, and this is one of the many reasons why the ad targeting is less advanced.
What does this all mean for brands?
1. It means that in WeChat's closed network of users, brands have limited options to send unsolicited marketing promotions or ads to customers that aren't already following them.
2. In light of WeChat users' closed network and limited advertising options, brands have to create strong content that encourages their current customers to share with their friends and family. Then, hopefully, these new users will become official account followers.
How Influencers Can Supercharge Your WeChat Marketing Campaigns
Given the limitations of WeChat advertising, it can be quite difficult and time-consuming to attract new followers to a WeChat Official Account. What can brands do to speed up the process?
Brands that have an offline presence in China can entice customers to scan QR codes at their stores to follow their accounts. Pop-up stores at malls and other locales can do a good job of creating buzz and attracting new WeChat followers.
Chanel's pop-up store in Shenzhen
But for brands selling through cross-border e-commerce, the options are more limited and they oftentimes have to turn to influencers to raise brand awareness.
Influencers, also known as key opinion leaders (KOLs) in China, are a key link between brands and customers in China e-commerce.
Since there are a lot of fake goods and fake reviews online, Chinese customers trust friends and family the most when looking for recommendations. But after friends and family, they turn to influencers, who publish content and trustworthy product reviews .
These influencers have already built up trust with their fan base, and can have hundreds of thousands or even millions of fans already following them on WeChat. Since this relationship has already been built, influencers can drive large amounts of user traffic and sales to the brands that they work with.
Mr. Bags, a prominent influencer, helped Tod's sell 3.24 million RMB worth of bags in just six minutes.
Below, influencer Gogoboi's posts about the new Vivienne Westwood x Burberry collection generated over 90,000 views in just two days.
For brands who want to amplify their reach within a short amount of time, influencers can be a good way to do so. The costs of using influencers vary and there are different ways to partner with them. We'll dig into influencer marketing in a later article.
1. Despite its large user base, WeChat as a marketing tool is still limited in that user networks are private and advertising options are limited. It's hard to drive organic growth to one's official account.
2. Because of WeChat's limitations, the content that brands create has to be high-quality so that users will be encouraged to share with other users that weren't originally following the brand's official account.
3. Influencers are key to helping brands drive more traffic and users to their official accounts. They can amplify one's reach within a very short amount of time because they already have large bases of followers that are loyal and look to them for shopping advice.