WeChat for Publishers and Marketers: Lessons from a Social Media Giant

by | Oct 20, 2016 | Social Media Marketing Tips

WeChat Marketing 101

Most people are aware that Facebook (and their associated suite of apps – Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp) is the world’s largest social network, but there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the platform hot on its heels with over 800 million users.

It’s not LinkedIn or Twitter. Google Plus is still mostly unused outside of tech and marketing circles. And no, MySpace is not making a comeback (despite fellow AIMer Natalie’s best efforts).

WeChat is now firmly established as a social media powerhouse, offering services like individual and group chats, video calls, file sharing and news updates.

Critically, it also allows for payment processing for everything from restaurant tabs…paying utility bills….taxi fares…and ordering goods online. And all with a few easy taps without the need to leave the app or open your wallet for cash or a credit card. Perhaps the most impressive stat: over half of users have their payment details linked to the app and the WeChat wallet is used  an impressive 54 times a month.

The reason you’ve probably never heard of it, or don’t know much about it, is because it’s primarily used in China where Facebook is effectively banned from mainstream use. WeChat (or Weixin as it’s called in mainland China) has truly become omnipresent, with a third of mobile internet time in China spent on the app. The average user spends 70 minutes a day on WeChat, compared to just 20 minutes for Facebook’s regular global user.

WeChat logoWeChat for marketers

You’re probably thinking that’s not much use to me as a publisher or marketer without a Chinese target market.

WeChat as a marketing channel: Why you should be watching WeChat

There are some valuable lessons to learn for any business and it’s a platform worth keeping an eye on for several reasons.

Firstly, it’s now open for the world to use. You can download the app from iTunes or the play store for Android. Admittedly, like any SM platform, its use is limited without your network of friends, family, or colleagues also on-board. But already it’s being adopted by people outside of China with more than 70 million global users and growing (an American colleague of mine uses it to communicate with her parents).

Secondly, WeChat is what Facebook wants to be when it grows up. Studying how publishers and marketers utilise this emerging platform provides somewhat of a blueprint for using FB in the future.

FB has actually been around longer (WeChat is only five years old) but is playing catch up to its young Chinese rival in many ways. Ironically, despite (or perhaps because of) its free market roots, FB has been slower to integrate an ecommerce presence. Meanwhile, WeChat has become one of the primary methods for payment in China – both peer to peer and e-commerce. That’s exactly what FB’s Messenger is aspiring to be.

In fact, it’s becoming a widespread payment method outside of China too. Case in point: a friend of mine runs a resort in Thailand. When I heard he was headed to a WeChat conference in China latestly, I was surprised that it was widely used by the Thai people.

“Oh, it’s not” was his answer “we have 10 million Chinese visitors annually in Thailand and they want to use WeChat at hotels and elsewhere to pay for things”.

With a population over 1.3 billion in China and a growing middle class (already larger than Germany, the U.K, France and Spain combined) you can expect increased adoption by businesses worldwide.

But it’s in China itself that the platform has seen the biggest gains.

Last week, I was in The Agora’s HQ in Baltimore (along with a few of the AIM squad) presenting at a marketing training conference.

Joining us was Greg Gao who had travelled from China where he heads the marketing for Agora’s Chinese business, 3rdStone. They publish financial publications with a similar market to most of Agora, skewing towards an older male demographic. It’s always great catching up with Greg and I’ve been paying extra attention latestly every time he discusses how they are using WeChat for their business.

Generating financial publication sales via WeChat

3rdStone now generate more than 25% of their sales to their financial front ends (entry level paid publication) from WeChat. And that number is growing steadily every month.

Those WeChat sales are coming in two primary ways – directly from the app and also via WeChat payment off the social media platform.

3rdStone have quickly established a base of over 50,000 WeChat followers. They receive daily communication via “subscriptions” which is like being a fan of a FB page but the messages are more direct, more like FB Messenger (their “Moments” is more similar to the traditional FB newsfeed).

Below is an example of a subscriptions post, which many Agora business may recognize.

WeChat Marketing examplesThey also have a “Service Account” with almost 50,000 followers who they can push notifications to.

3rdStone now also has an “Enterprise account” where they manage their paid subscribers and deliver instant trading notifications directly to the user’s inbox. This offers great opportunities for upsells and cross-sells.

Like all Agora publications, they still use email marketing, of course. But WeChat both complements those messages and, in many cases, replaces email for the majority of Chinese professionals who prefer to communicate and receive content via the social media app.

Editorial and marketing messages are pushed out to these free readers who are converted to paying customers via a WeChat third party store (or mall as it’s called) or to external landing pages and promos.

Lesson 1: FB is trying to head in the same direction with Messenger in terms of communication and payment integration. This is a space to be watching closely.

Integration with WeChat extends beyond the platform itself. A third of the orders received on 3rdStone’s regular order forms come from the WeChat payment option. So, people responding to an email promotion often prefer to pay with one click WeChat payment or QR code rather than with a credit card, especially on mobile devices.

Lesson 2: Payment integration on regular order forms is critical, especially for mobile. Allowing people to pay how they prefer will boost your sales.

Should your business be using WeChat as part of your marketing strategy? 

The short answer…no. Unless you have a Chinese market, it’s not likely a platform you need to have a direct presence on. At least not yet.

But the success of WeChat means Facebook is sure to be paying close attention to them, whether they will admit it or not. And that means you should be keeping an eye on them too.

One place to start is to try the platform personally to see what it’s all about. Download the app here and feel free to add me so we can stay in touch (my username is grantperry).

Be sure to connect with the AIM FB page for WeChat updates and we’ll help you get early mover advantage with the platform or to apply lessons learned to other channels applicable to your market.


Grant Signature

Grant Perry
Social Media Specialist, AIM

P.S.  If you enjoyed this article, you’ll enjoy my article reviewing Quora ads.  Quora will likely never be a big player that will match the big boys but is it worth adding Quora ads to you marketing strategy?. You can read my review of Quora ads, here.

P.P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter, below. Get direct response marketing tips directly to your inbox.