Yesterday, Tencent WeChat released its version 5.0, the product’s biggest update since it launched in January 2011. As part of the company’s goal to transform WeChat into a truly global messaging service, the upgrade features not only several new tools to dramatically enhance the general user experience, but also a new structure to organize the B2C accounts on the app.
The general consumer experience will now see more social sharing, games, payment system integration, and location-based functions. These new benefits will be accompanied by a better user experience and clearer structure for business accounts as well.
As always, WeChat invests deeply in protecting users from spam and other digital harassment in order to try to build the best customer experience possible, which is actually quite helpful for brands: in terms of customer activity and conversion rate, WeChat is already way ahead of other digital platforms like Weibo and Facebook.
Look below for some of the main new features for both businesses and customers that you can expect to see from WeChat’s new version.
This is version 5.0’s most valuable B2C addition, and contains several features that allow for direct engagement with the customer. First of all, brands can send messages directly to the personal chat windows of each customer, which is not the case with the official accounts subdivision. It isn’t hard to imagine what a difference this makes for open rates.
Secondly, Services accounts encourage brands to have a strong CRM policy by first connecting online through the WeChat brand account in order to influence e-commerce and offline brick-and-mortar retail performance. This kind of “exclusive” communication may be especially welcomed by premium and luxury brands, or other financial services such as China Merchant Bank, for example.
Since Services accounts can send only one push marketing message per month, a balance is struck by the dedicated navigation menu, which features mini-site functions that the WeChat IT team can create for brands.
These characteristics are likely to encourage brands to become more creative and think twice before posting random information to their followers. Planning and strategy departments should work closely on a monthly customer engagement campaign and focus on quality and creativity over quantity when it comes to marketing through this feature. The WeChat campaigns of brands like Coach or Furla are good examples of how to succeed in engaging customers with interactive content and games.
In other words, as a 1:1 communication tool, Services accounts can add value to a very strong CRM strategy, as well as perfectly complement a brand’s Weibo account, where quantity of posts is more important.
Official Accounts (Subscription Accounts)
Compared to the 4.0 version, there is nothing radically different about Official Accounts pages, but they can now be integrated in sub-accounts and allow brands to push one message per day. One big limitation in this type of account, as opposed to the Services account listed above, is that it only allows brands to communicate in the “Official Accounts” window and not directly through the user chat window. Because there are roughly 1,000,000 brand accounts today, and only 40,000 are verified, many official accounts face issues in terms of efficiency and customer perception. This type of account will probably be most useful for mass-market brands in order to push a maximum number of messages a month. The risk in doing this is that users might become bored by brands in the same way that they do with brands on Weibo, and start to “unreceive” messages or even “unfollow” WeChat brand accounts that they perceive as spam.
The WeChat Payment function can integrate bank accounts (credit card or debit card) with a customer’s WeChat account. Today, WeChat users can make purchases on several e-commerce platforms like BuyQQ, Amazon, 1Haodian, or Dangdang.
Soon, we can expect users to make purchases directly via a brand’s WeChat account, and different QR codes will be created for different goods—a situation which any e-commerce manager would be happy to see. Here is an example with Nongfu Springs, a very popular Chinese brand of water…
… and with a book:
Scanner Tool and Location-Based Services (LBS)
Several useful B2C adaptations will be made possible by the new scan function. First, goods can be scanned using a product’s barcode, allowing the user to jump directly onto the e-commerce website selling the product and order it online immediately. This will allow brands to boost stores’ online and offline traffic and transform the data acquisition into a real and scalable CRM policy.
As before, WeChat 5.0 allows each brand follower to localize his or her position to connect with the brand’s nearest shop. In the future, members will be able to use the platform to check what’s in stock or learn about local promotions available.
Social Games and Emoticons
These features will surely become a main revenue stream for WeChat, as they are inspired by successful KakaoTalk developments in Korea. Games which allow “friend ranking” as shown below encourage a high activity rate and social sharing.
At the same time, WeChat has launched an emoticon shop called “Sticker Shop” based on the MobileQQ business model.
This is probably the most user-friendly messaging app tool in recent creation. The scanner can identify any word and translate it into another language, such as English. In addition, barcodes can redirect to any URL and recognize products such as books, CDs, and many other goods, or estimate the user’s location via the Tencent Soso map-powered streetview feature.
You can also try something funny: scan any object around you instead of the street in front of you, such as your pant leg, and the scan tool will find the street and show it to you. This is because location-based scan service is actually just a classic GPS tool. While you are “scanning”, the GPS is actually just calculating your position and publishing it on your screen.
Save WeChat Conversation
This new function allows a user to save a conversation and get back to it later, making the social interactions more efficient and interactive.
WeChat has enhanced the performance of the “Nearby” tool, which looks for friends nearby at the tap of a screen, to make it more user-friendly. In future versions of WeChat, we may see this service extending to physical shop locations of users’ favorite brands.
After acting as the general manager for premium brands for Groupon-Tencent China (Groupnet), Alexis Bonhomme is now the general manager for business development at Curiosity China Limited, the WeChat Integrated Agency which focuses on foreign premium brands and their digital strategies in digital marketing, e-commerce, social media, and CRM. Bonhomme works with three groups of clients: brands currently operating in China, brands planning to enter, and brands targeting Chinese and Asian outbound tourism in their local markets. For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org