Guest post submitted by Benji Lamb.
WeChat is quickly becoming a phenomenon for Western social media marketers.
With 700 million active monthly users — twice the population of the US, all contained in a single closed system — it’s crucial for Western marketers to understand the opportunities in this environment.
It’s equally as important for marketers to be aware of the differences in Chinese Internet user habits, technology use, and overall culture in this very different arena before jumping in head first.
The conflicts most often encountered when moving into the WeChat network is, conceptually, similar to the conflicts we experience with our more familiar social networks:
- How do you attract targeted followers to your account (preferably organically)?
- How do you disseminate content effectively, manage communications, and bring genuine value to those followers so they buy?
While the concepts are the same, the methodology does often differ greatly on Chinese social networks. We’ll be focusing specifically on WeChat, but many of these principles apply to other Chinese social networks as well.
If you’re completely new to the Chinese environment, give this Chinese digital marketing overview a quick read, then come back here to talk WeChat in more detail.
Engaging Content Sells Universally
For official subscription accounts — WeChat’s method of verifying companies — the key is to attract followers with engaging content.
Engaging in this context means highly-shareable content that presents your brand’s message in a short space of time.
So, conceptually, very similar to a standard digital marketing approach. Even some of the trends are spot on, with video and visually-stimulating images garnering the most engagement among Chinese social media users.
There is also a strong culture among WeChat users to share content.
On average, one out of three users will share and re-post content on their WeChat “Moments” (similar to Facebook’s Newsfeed) once per day.
Cartoon, anime-style videos with vivid, exaggerated colors and visuals remain very popular. Some Western brands have adopted this approach, while others opt for a typical European or American advertising aesthetic in order to stand apart from China’s domestic brands.
Regardless of the aesthetic you choose, it needs to be consistent with your brand’s values, while still being tailored to Chinese users — feature Chinese consumers and models in your visuals, and consider how your proposition relates to the Chinese user.
The Chinese are also well-known for their love of selfies.
An effective selfie campaign by Japanese retailer, Uniqlo, more than doubled followers of the brand on WeChat, from 400,000 to over 1 million in only six months.
The promotion — dubbed “Style Your Life — encouraged WeChat users to take selfies of themselves (both in-store and outside the store) in new clothes they purchased from the brand.
They could then add a background of iconic sights in Tokyo/London/etc., appearing as though they were out sightseeing.
Beyond the significant growth in followers, there were over 250,000 shares on WeChat’s Moments related to the promotion and, most importantly, Uniqlo representatives reported a 30% increase of key clothing items.
The takeaway being…
- Get consumers engaged in a way that encourages sharing content and generates extra content for your brand at no extra cost.
- Give consumers an opportunity to have fun and entertain themselves, while showing off their brand.
- Play on cultural trends, so there are fewer social barriers to taking action (e.g. selfies are socially acceptable).
QR Codes – Offline to Online
Unlike their short-lived presence in Western countries, QR codes have taken a strong hold on Chinese Internet users.
QR codes in China are commonly used to:
- Pay street vendors
- Pay in-store
- Share contact information
- Connect to a hotspot
- Install apps
- Visit brand websites and content
- And more…
In fact, WeChat utilizes QR codes as a core component of its basic functionality — from adding another user to entering a competition to linking an event, activity, or content.
QR codes facilitate offline-to online marketing activities, with product packaging and physical ad boards often prominently displaying codes.
Starbucks notably launched an effective QR code campaign in China using WeChat.
Users would scan a code on their coffee cup, which added Starbucks as a WeChat contact.
The brand then asked consumers to consent to messages by requesting they sending back an emoji (basically, a unique form of opting in). Based on the mood of the emoji, the brand sent back a personalized song/music video as a WeChat message.
Adapting your marketing strategy to consumer behavior is obviously a requirement for any successful campaign.
In the US, we typically wouldn’t even consider integrating QR codes into a campaign. They had their short run here, but the adoption rate was low and brands didn’t capitalize very well.
However, in China, not having a QR code integrated into your ad campaign often puts you at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to driving users to your WeChat account.
Another tactic to gain more WeChat followers and improve your overall digital presence is cross-platform promotion.
Similar to how we include links to our social profiles in email or message board signatures, QR codes are often embedded on other social platforms.
Most notably, Weibo (akin to Twitter) and QQ (a large content-based forum and messenger service).
This allows you to link users from a range of different platforms to your official WeChat account, driving them to add you or consume content on the platform.
This is yet another example of how critical QR code implementation is to a brand’s success on WeChat.
Make it easy for people to find and follow your brand. And provide an incentive for them to do so, whether that’s exclusive content, a fresh offer, or a contest.
Chinese Influencers and Key Opinion Leaders
Chinese influencers, often called Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), offer a pathway for growing your digital presence on WeChat — usually with a price tag, of course.
These KOLs are Chinese individuals who have established a large community of followers and, much like influencers elsewhere, you can recruit KOLs to promote your brand. This could cost anywhere from a couple hundred to thousands for many campaigns, though you can often find lower-tier influencers who will cut down that price tag significantly.
Though influencer marketing is a bit more confusing to navigate in China, indicators show it is an effective approach. Consumers tend to not mind an influencer openly sponsoring a brand as much as they do in North America.
Many of the big-name KOLs are in the fashion industry, but it’s possible to easily find influencers for food, beverage, and lifestyle brands as well.
You can find influencers by browsing through top WeChat profiles in whatever niche you’re targeting. They’ll typically have Subscription (verified) accounts with an email address or some contact method on their page for sponsorships.
Before you open your wallet, though, be sure to:
- Research which influencers are attracting the most quality engagement.
- Analyze what type of engagement they’re garnering — is their audience truly your audience?
- Ask for examples of previous brand sponsorships and, ideally, results from those endorsements.
- Work to build and keep a relationship with these influencers, big or small. They may continue pushing your products or even cut you a deal if you’re a repeat customer.
Bonus tip: If you find an influencer on WeChat, but you’re trying to target more North American or European consumers, see if you can find the influencer on Instagram as well.
For example, Huohuo Han, a Chinese fashion and style influencer has a huge WeChat following, but he also has almost 400,000 Instagram followers worth tapping into.
It goes without saying that your WeChat content and communication needs to be in Chinese. Mandarin, typically.
Many brands now even run their customer service on WeChat, with groups and live operates responding to questions.
This requires a local customer service presence with a quality Chinese language team being an essential component.
It’s also a great idea to actively start conversations with WeChat contacts, as Chinese users really appreciate direct social interaction with brands.
Social Offers and Promotions
With WeChat gaming on decline for the past couple years, it’s more important than ever to incentivize followers to subscribe and share your posts with exclusive offers and promotions.
One interesting tactic of late is using hong baos, Mandarin for “red envelope”.
A long-standing Chinese tradition, these “red envelopes” are monetary gifts exchanged on holidays or special occasions, like weddings, graduations, or the birth of a baby.
Many companies have adapted this tradition to digital promotions on WeChat by offering “lucky dip” style promotions, in which followers who share a certain number of posts or subscribe have the chance to win prizes.
Since Chinese culture places so much emphasis on maintaining close social relationships, promotions incentivizing users to enter a contest by sharing with friends/family usually have the best results.
Similar to Facebook, taking part in groups is another method to build your presence and reputation on WeChat.
You can create groups around certain topics related to your business and use them as a channel to answer questions, share useful content, and build relationships with your target customers.
Establishing your brand as an authority in your industry is as important in China as it is in North America or Europe.
Likewise, openness to conversation and forming one-to-one relationships with consumers is expected of brands in China.
Sticking to good social marketing principles: it’s important to not to be too sales-focused in WeChat groups.
Instead, groups are an opportunity to humanize your brand, provide good information and input, and build a positive reputation.
If you’re going to link to your products, it should only be in cases where the product pitch is genuinely relevant to the conversation or would help solve a problem expressed by another member of the group.
As you can tell, WeChat offers an immense amount of potential for brands seeking to expand into China.
The user numbers alone are staggering, but more importantly, the willingness of WeChat users to interact with brands truly places it among the top performing social networks for multinational brands.
About the Author: Benji Lamb is a digital marketing specialist based in Shanghai. He specializes in providing solutions for Western businesses looking to generate leads in China. For more information, visit his blog and website.