WeChat’s mistaken identity and how Western brands get it all wrong

WeChat is the world’s most versatile app. It has evolved from a simple messaging app into something that resembles a complete operating system. This functionality has fuelled massive growth, it now has 898 million monthly active users. The app does so much that over one third of users are on the app for more than 4 hours per day.

The latest major development, mini-programs, attempted to set WeChat in direct competition with the App Store and Google Play. It enabled third party developers and businesses to develop programs to be used within WeChat. However, they have not yet become widely successful, largely due to copyright restrictions, enforced by Apple, leading to difficult to use search methods.

Western brands are looking at WeChat with dollar signs in their eyes. The reality is different. The first problem is verification, meaning that if a brand does not have a registered business in China, the WeChat account cannot be verified. This impacts the credibility of the account as well as effecting search optimisation.

The second problem is that brands misunderstand the platform. The core use of the app is still instant messaging, the use of which is now deeply integrated into both social and professional life. The number of public accounts has been on the rise, but their penetration rate is far lower than initially expected.

The lack of resources for brands to promote their accounts has been at the heart of this problem. Tencent have been slow to roll out functional targeting capabilities. The importance of advert placement was highlighted by recent statistics that showed over 85% of users dislike seeing adverts on their WeChat Moments (news feed).

WeChat Strategy

There are well over 10 million official accounts on WeChat, but few brands have developed a successful strategy.

WeChat should be used as a brand’s China CRM platform. Brands can contact their fan base directly and easily initiate a one-on-one conversation. With the growing sophistication of autobots and…

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