Despite the comparisons between WeChat and Facebook, or WeChat and WhatsApp (yes, guilty as charged), WeChat has no close Western equivalent, and so the way brands can reach new customers and interact with existing customers thus require a fresh approach. Of course, key marketing principles apply as much they do as for print, television or PR, but the 3 Golden Rules of WeChat are at least as – if not more – important than those.
1. Embrace QR Codes
The main challenge for Western brands in using WeChat marketing is appreciating the importance of promoting their WeChat accounts offline. The reason for this is simple: unlike most other social networks, WeChat is a closed network accessible only by mobile. The only way people are likely to come across your account is if a friend shares some of your content, or they’re actively searching for it: It’s unlikely they would stumble upon your account. More critically, unlikely Facebook, Weibo and other big social networks, WeChat ads are still in their infancy so there’s no easy way to pay for exposure to your account, unless you’re working with an agency.
So how do you go about promoting your WeChat account offline: QR codes. Unlike in the West, where QR codes are largely treated with derision, WeChat QR codes are ubiquitous across Mainland China, understood by everyone and – to a large extent – expected by Chinese consumers. If you’re serious about building your WeChat following, print your QR code on any customer-facing literature; receipts, posters, print advertising, and anywhere else appropriate to the industry you’re in. For brands without a physical presence in China, you can still post your QR code on your website, other social media channels, or even include it in your email signatures.
2. Quality over Quantity
Whichever social media platform you’re marketing on, it goes without saying that quality is of paramount importance. However with WeChat this is even more so. Every post you make gets sent right in subscribers’ pockets and is marked with a bright red unread count number begging the subscriber to ‘read this post’. As readers have trusted your brand enough to invite you in to their pockets, it’s important you don’t let them down. Treat readers right and they’ll share your content through their network, earning you new followers and greater exposure. Bore them or irritate them, and all it takes is a couple of clicks for users to banish you from their phones. With this in mind there are a couple of important points to keep in mind:
- No one likes being constantly and obnoxiously marketed to. Soft sell, baby.
- Don’t irritate your readers by posting too frequently. Likewise, don’t take up space on their phone and not post enough.
3. Two-Way Communication
WeChat at its heart is a communication platform, and communication is two-way street. Whether it’s users speaking to users, or users speaking to brands with questions or feedback, no one appreciates being ignored. Ideally brands will be able to employ an agency or a Chinese-speaking employee to monitor the WeChat account and reply quickly and thoughtfully, but not all brands have resources for this, especially in the early stages of a WeChat channel when your follower numbers might not justify the expense. In the absence of a human employee regularly monitoring your account (brands have 48 hours to reply to user messages before they’re unable to reply), it’s important to set up auto responses at the very least. With auto responses you have a chance to let users know that you’ve received their message, and you can also trigger certain auto responses to respond when keywords appear within users’ messages. For example, retailers could set an auto response to trigger upon receipt of messages containing the word ‘exchange’, so when a user messages you asking “How do I exchange something I bought?”, they will receive a message giving them the exact information they need.
Any type of marketing is about understanding people, and WeChat is no different in that sense. What sets WeChat apart it from other platforms though is the technical limitations and freedoms that make the platform so unique. Secondly, is the psyche of the Chinese consumer and what they expect from brands on mobile. Once you’ve a clear understanding of both and are able to act on that knowledge, it’s just a matter of waiting for readers to come knocking!