When we talk about WeChat, the Chinese social media comes to mind like a sort of “mix between Facebook and Instagram” or a “whatsapp with different functions”. It is normal to look for references among the social networks we know to describe an app unknown to the most.
And yet, WeChat has entered the group of most popular mobile applications in the world with over 1 billion active users, positioning itself in fifth position compared to all the most used social media in the world (after Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp). WeChat stands out from other social media for the type of users that use it, that is for the most part Chinese. The reason lies mainly in the fact that Western social media like Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp are blocked in China, but a good part of the motivation is to be searched in the incredible quantity of services available to its users.
It makes sense to understand what exactly WeChat is and why it is so important for Western brands that want to work with China.
Let’s start with the first question:
What is WeChat?
WeChat was developed by the tech giant Tencent in 2011 and started as a messaging application. In fact, at the beginning his success was given by the possibility of sending vocal messages, in a country where the written language is much more complex than in others. Its original name was “Weixin” and is still widely used in China.
In 2012 the application reached 100 million users. It is at this point that the transformation from a messaging app to a service app begins.
Today WeChat is used in China to connect from a personal and professional point of view, almost completely replacing business cards and emails.
WeChat allows users to:
– Send messages – and translate them instantly when sending or receiving;
– Share photos and messages on your wall – called “Moments”;
– Connect with people you don’t know in your geographical area;
– Book taxis and flights tickets;
– Do online shopping;
– Make payments with WeChat Pay;
– Create groups of people with a common interest.
This is what you can do as a private users, it is clear that WeChat is not a fusion between Instagram and Facebook and Whatsapp, but if we want to continue using social media references, we should include Amazon, Ebay, Gmail, MyTaxi, Satispay, Tinder … everything in one app.
At this point we are ready to answer the second question:
Why should foreign companies have WeChat?
Since 2012 it is for companies to open official accounts that are able to interact directly with their followers, today they are more than 20 official account active on WeChat.
Thanks to the high level of digitization in China (over 800 million active users every month), the spread of QR codes and use of mobile, it is clear that using WeChat to communicate directly with end consumers is more a necessity than a possibility.
Social media allows us to apply targeted and personalized marketing strategies, and Chinese consumers – constantly bombarded by advertising, signs, sounds, screens – pay a lot of attention to the tailor-made promotion.
If you have found surprising what private users can do with WeChat, let’s give a look at what is possible for companies.
- Use QR codes to reach your followers.
Chinese consumers are accustomed to use QR codes much more than Western ones. This means that applying the QR code of your account on products, promotional material, strategic spots in China guarantees the acquisition of followers interested in what you do. Moreover, your WeChat account plays the same role that Website cover in Western countries, so, having your QR code during fair or events will make you look much more “customer friendly”
- Transmit your corporate values and generate brand awareness.
Very often Western brands entrust their communication to their importer / distributor. This practice, not only is very risky – because the end of the collaboration coincides with the communication and your brand “disappears” – but also does not allow you to have control over the values and image that your name is taking in front of millions of consumers . As we know, building the image of a brand is difficult, but deleting the negative image associated with it is almost impossible. WeChat allows you to have control of your communication and do it in an official manner.
- WeChat uses geolocation to detect the position of active users.
This function allows stores or hospitality to target potential Chinese customers nearby within their facilities or at a promotional event. It therefore becomes a powerful way to talk to potential buyers or tourists nearby
- Open e-commerce stores to make mobile sales.
They are called Weidian and are e-shops built inside WeChat. On WeiDian you can sell your products directly to end consumers.
- Involve your customers with promotions, lotteries, games and more.
WeChat allows you to create HTML pages or mini-applications built inside it, where consumers can play games or participate in lotteries. All these activities serve to keep your users interested in your account, and you can also launch promotional campaigns related to these games, which will expand your user base.
- Create loyalty programs.
Nowadays, loyalty programs are an essential component for a long-term relationship with customers.
In the increasingly competitive business environment in China, not only pleasure, but also customer loyalty has become crucial. As a result, loyalty programs have become something absolutely necessary.
Some examples of loyalty programs that can be activated on WeChat:
– Give VIP cards to specific customers;
– Send exclusive promotions and the latest news to all your followers;
– Grant your customers special coupons, including electronic coupons;
– Provide your customers with the right to purchase a product or service with a daily or seasonal discount, which will lead to an increase in your income;
– From time to time, reward your customers with offers and all-inclusive packages.
- Create personalized stickers that can be shared by the public.
GIFs and stickers are common in all messaging apps and WeChat is no different. But if the sticker belong to your brand, all users could share it, guaranteeing visibility.
- Receive smart payments from Chinese customers.
WeChat Pay is available in Italy and many European countries, it allows Chinese consumers on vacation to pay in their own currency and you to receive money in euros on your current account.
- Do Advertising.
As in all social media, you can promote your content to expand your follower base
These are all the things you can do with WeChat for companies.
What are the difficulties?
First of all, WeChat is a “closed” application so users cannot see your content if they are not following your account. Consequently, follower acquisition – meaning, the increase of the follower base – is the crucial point for any company that decides to use WeChat. This makes the start of the account much slower than in Western social media, but with exponential growth potential.
One way to expand the follower base is to create useful content for the public. If you have a WeChat account, it is not enough to publish few photos with an effect sentence, like we usually do on Facebook, on the contrary you have to write real articles with interesting content for those who read them.
Furthermore, the only way to rapidly increase your follower base is promotion, and this brings us to the second issue related to the use of WeChat: the budget to invest. WeChat is not an economic social media, in general digital promotion in China is quite expensive and brands must be ready for this investment if they want to promote their products in China. Given the potential of the app, with a good use of the account, the return on investment is certainly greater than what is expected from Western social media.