WeChat, the go-to place for brands and travel destinations to connect with Chinese consumers, may not be as mighty as it once was, and its dominance in China’s mobile space has been declining, recent data suggests. It may be time for brands to re-evaluate their strategy on the platform.
The average read count of articles published on WeChat decreased 24 percent in 2017 from the previous year, a report published by Chinese social media monitoring site Newrank and WeChat e-commerce solution provider YouZan found. The average open rate for these articles has fallen to under 5 percent in 2017. The share of mobile time consumers spent on social platforms like WeChat decreased from 28 percent in 2017 to 23 percent in 2018, likely taken away by UGC platforms like Douyin and Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book).
A key takeaway from these data is that the organic exposure once realized by brands who joined the platform at an early stage is fading. Many find acquiring new followers on WeChat to be increasingly difficult and expensive. Brands (including travel destinations) need to adopt more realistic expectations about WeChat in 2018. Investing in WeChat without clear objectives and strategies may lead to huge disappointments and monetary losses.
So, what should brands do to prepare for this new reality?
The critical first step is to make an accurate assessment of your business needs and understand how WeChat is able to help you address those needs. In the case of a hypothetical new fashion brand that has not yet entered the China market, working with influencers will probably be a more cost-effective method to gain exposure than opening a WeChat official account. For an overseas brand that wants to sell to Chinese customers but does not yet have a logistics provider, working with cross-border e-commerce platforms like VIP.com will be much easier than establishing a store on WeChat.
In addition, businesses must be willing to commit to long-term investments before establishing a presence on WeChat. Given the dramatic increase in WeChat official accounts, the competition for audiences has also increased. As a result, consumers have become more selective about the content they receive. To get consumers’ attention, businesses will need to put resources into producing desirable content and creating incentives that keep their audience engaged.
For those brands who have decided that WeChat is indeed the place to be, here are a few tips that might help drive their return on investment.
Leverage the “Power Couple” of Official Accounts and Mini-Programs
Once dubbed China’s Superman App by The New York Times, WeChat prides itself for being an ecosystem that provides popular services to Chinese consumers. However, for many businesses, providing these services has not been easy due to the restrictive nature of WeChat’s platform and the high cost of integration. That changed with the launch of WeChat’s mini-programs.
Mini-programs offer businesses an easy way to build apps within WeChat. The seamless integration into WeChat articles builds a powerful bridge between content and commerce. Yu Xiaoge, a former Harper’s Bazaar editor turned influencer, successfully transformed her struggling e-commerce business into a multi-million-dollar beauty empire with the adoption of a mini-program. With the use of the mini-program, her followers can easily purchase the products featured in her WeChat articles without having to leave the platform.
Prioritize Audience Engagement over Follower Acquisition
Given the extremely low open rate of articles and the high follower acquisition cost, brands should prioritize current audience engagement over increasing the number of followers. Brands should invest in strategies that will incentivize current followers to share brand articles in their WeChat Moments (WeChat’s equivalent to Facebook’s news feed) and WeChat Groups. In doing so, this group of engaged followers extends the reach of the account into their social network. Many brands host regular raffles and giveaways on WeChat to encourage word-of-mouth marketing.
Pay Attention to Community Development
Since its inception in 2011, WeChat has provided a platform for brands and influencers to develop deep connections with their followers. However, as a result of a recent system update, WeChat changed the way official account articles are displayed in a user’s feed. Subscribers no longer get a reminder when their favorite account publishes an article. Instead, these articles will be displayed in a content stream in chronical order. If a subscriber misses the short window from when the article is published, it will be very difficult to discover the article later.
Mok, a top Chinese travel influencer with over a million followers on WeChat, shares her secret for keeping followers engaged. In addition to her WeChat official account, she takes advantages of WeChat’s group feature. She manages 10 WeChat groups each with 500 followers and maintains direct conversations with these audiences. When an article on her WeChat account is published, she will share it with group members so that her core followers can read the article and share within their social circle. A strong connection also makes it easier to convert user interest into sales. Whether it is an exclusive raffle or a stamped postcard from her latest travel, members in these groups get an insider scoop among her followers. As a result of the direct interaction, these VIP members are more likely to make a purchase or take action compared to regular subscribers.
Identify the Right User- Acquisition Tactics
Data collected by WeChat CRM platform Weixin Host shows that the most effective way to acquire followers is through in-store interactions. Retailers have the most success in recruiting new followers by asking them to scan a QR code after an in-store purchase.
In contrast, WeChat Moments ads have a much lower follower acquisition rate. These ads have the ability to reach a large audience with different target options, but, for brands with little awareness, these ads might not be as efficient due to the high bidding cost and low click-through rate.
Charlie Gu is the CEO of Kollective Influence, a marketing agency that specializes in cross-border influencer management and strategy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.