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WeChat Marketing in 2021: Everything Brands Need to Know

WeChat is the #1 most-used social media platform in China. Image: Viral Access

A few weeks ago, WeChat released an announcement directed at various platforms declaring it would no longer support third party links to external sites or programs within the app. Below is a translation of their official statement:

“Seeing as WeChat has already enacted restrictions on the use of third party links by platforms such as QQ music, QQ browser, Zhi Hu, Hao Kan Shi Pin, Xiao Hong Shu, and Duo Duo Zhi Bo (an app under parent company Pin Duo Duo), the function of opening external links from within WeChat will no longer be supported.”

In order to access third party links, users will now have to select an “Open in browser” button or copy and paste the link manually.

The announcement came as a shock to many for the following reason: these restrictions would specifically be applied to apps/platforms owned by Tencent, the parent company of WeChat. These new restrictions (which could be seen as a strategy to preserve the internal WeChat ecosystem) could have big impacts on marketing within the app.

What does this mean for brands wishing to market on WeChat in 2021?

With over 1.2 billion monthly active users, WeChat remains integral to businesses wishing to market in China. This new restriction means one thing: marketers need to shift their focus to directing private traffic within the WeChat ecosystem.

What is private traffic?

Private traffic marketing on WeChat makes use of the app’s internal systems and features to reach users. Image: Viral Access

In one of their articles, Daxue Consulting explains private traffic perfectly:

“Private traffic, known as 私域流量 in Chinese, is a trending term among China marketers in 2019 and 2020. Private traffic is a marketing method where communication with customers is funneled into private pools on platforms that allow brands to have full control without costs of third-party platforms.”

Private traffic has been compared to blogs and email lists, with “private pools” being areas brands can reach and interact with their customers without any cost. “Private traffic” refers to traffic that is directed to these private pools, such as group/private chats.

So how exactly does private traffic work within WeChat? Let’s find out!

The structure of WeChat

The WeChat ecosystem is made up of 8 primary constituents, each of which functions as a different customer touchpoint:

  1. Official accounts: pages where brands can post content and gather followers; categorised as either subscription or service accounts.
  2. Channels: a new feature centred around short video content; users can be recommended content both from within and outside their friend circle, bridging the gap between personal and official accounts.
  3. The search bar: located above the user’s chat logs, the search bar is the main access point for all content and services within the WeChat ecosystem.
  4. WeChat Pay: facilitates payment for users and businesses within WeChat; supports business coupons, gift cards, and other discount marketing tools.
  5. Mini Programs: independent applications that function within WeChat; can provide any kind of service, ranging from e-commerce to mobile games.
  6. WeCom: a communication and collaboration tool for businesses specifically made to connect personal accounts with business accounts.
  7. Personal accounts: brands can create personal accounts just like regular users, and send messages and push notifications to other personal accounts, allowing for engagement on a deeper, more authentic level.
  8. Group chats: businesses can create private group chats of up to 500 people in which they can manage group members (such as appointing group managers), post marketing content, and conduct live-streams.

How brands can direct private traffic

WeChat’s various features provide limitless possibilities for internal marketing on the app. Image: Viral Access

Official accounts: outbound marketing, inbound brand-building

Brands can use Official Accounts to post informative content, such as general brand information, industry knowledge, and other high-quality content which displays brand values and philosophy.

When users follow an Official Account, it appears in their chat logs and can send messages/push notifications directly to that user. Many brands utilise this to improve customer retention via private messaging, gifting discount coupons and lottery prizes, and other interactions.

Finally, Official Accounts can link directly to other touchpoints within the ecosystem, such as brand Mini Programs and Channels accounts, allowing brands to drive traffic to their desired location within WeChat.

Channels: a competitive space for public and private traffic

In 2021, it’s important for brands to emphasise marketing on Channels. The Channels feature is powerful because it’s one of the few spaces on WeChat that users can organically come across your brand content.

Channels accounts act like a “visiting card,” introducing the brand, its message, and its services to users who happen to stumble upon it. Moreover, brands can use Channels to drive private traffic to other touch points within WeChat by linking to their Official Account or Mini Programs.

On Channels it is easy to maintain continuous contact with users, which is beneficial for both branding and sales. In terms of branding, businesses can post content centring around new product releases, events, advertisements, and other brand/marketing content. In terms of sales, businesses can utilise livestream e-commerce sales promotions and events (such as product reviews and showcasing) to direct traffic to their WeChat stores.

Private Group Chats: the deposit site for private traffic accumulation

Since they are essentially cost-free to form and manage, private group chats are one of the best spaces for brands to amass private traffic on WeChat. Private groups appear in the user’s chat log and allow brands to send an unlimited number of messages/push notifications a day. Brands marketing on private groups should focus on these strategies:

  1. Group lotteries: motivate users to join the group with the promise of prizes, coupons, discounts, and special deals.
  2. Group discussion: keep user activity levels high by encouraging them to participate in discussions about hot topics.
  3. Affiliate marketing: reach new customers through old ones; reward users for inviting their friends to the group, and then reward the new members as well.
  4. Conversion: convert the private traffic from the group into sales by sharing content about new products, sales promotions, and events; repeatedly connect with users and increase customer retention and rate of repeated purchase.

Personal accounts: humanise your brand

Having even just one personal account with 5,000 contacts in their friend circle is a valuable source of private traffic for brands. Marketing through brand personal accounts usually focus on pushing content to users’ Moments and direct chat, but flooding their feed with advertisements and repeatedly sending push notifications can easily backfire by being annoying. Instead of using a personal account to blindly push content to its contacts, brands should consider the following:

  1. Fine-tuning account operations: this approach involves fine-tuning the details of the standard operating procedure and content strategy for each personal account. For example, keeping close track of each personal account (and their contact lists) and planning out content for Moments beforehand (e.g. date, time, and actions following the post).
  2. Posting a variety of content: this involves publishing a variety of content in multiple forms. When users add a brand’s personal account, they are expecting content other than just product releases and information about discounts. Brand personal accounts can engage their friend circles by demonstrating knowledge and professionalism via sharing content related to topics and trends within their industry.

Mini Programs: the landing page for consumers

The Mini Programs feature was introduced with the goal of providing services without the need to install any external programs. Instead of being used to increase social interactions within WeChat, Mini Programs were made to be available to users when needed and simple for them to exit when finished.

Mini Programs are the final component of private traffic: converting traffic to sales. Mini Programs are utilised in a number of ways, such as for group buying, to kill time, to distribute coupons/gift cards, track membership points, and more, making them a powerful private pool with few limits. Using Mini Programs as an e-commerce platform, sort of like an online store, can help brands convert private traffic into sales on WeChat.

2021 Private traffic trends

KOC Matrixes: influencer marketing for consumers

The essence of digital marketing is traffic, the essence of transactions is trust. Key opinion consumers (KOCs) are consumers with the potential to influence a number of peoples’ purchase decisions — a type of nano-influencer. Many brands have begun to construct “KOC matrixes,” which are essentially networks made up of different KOCs who endorse the brand. These KOCs direct private traffic towards the brand’s private pools within WeChat via user-generated content such as product reviews/recommendations, account tagging, or inviting users in their friend circle to private groups.

Key opinion leaders/consumers have a powerful impact on our purchase decisions. Photo: Viral Access

The power of a KOC matrix lies in its ability to connect with potential consumers on an authentic and personal level, as the variety of KOCs within the matrix can appeal to consumers with different purchase habits.

Channels: the focal point of private traffic in 2021

WeChat’s efforts to drive traffic to the Channels feature has been far from subtle, with every recent update working to perfect the sub-platform. As WeChat has gradually perfected the Channels operating system since its introduction, the feature has built a monthly active user base of over 200 million.

Aside from the four main entry-points for private traffic on Channels (followers, friends, recommendations, and “nearby content” which recommends videos based on their geolocation), brands should heavily focus on the live streaming feature.

Users can now watch live streams while simultaneously making purchases in Mini Programs, greatly simplifying the customer’s path to purchase in WeChat. This is a clear example of how Channels can effectively help convert traffic into sales, making it a powerful tool for brands.

Final Thoughts

The different components of the WeChat ecosystem play different roles in the customer lifecycle. Brands who make the most of these private pools by creating a unified marketing strategy and strengthening the foundations of their social trust will see greater results from their WeChat marketing efforts.

We hope that this article helped you in your social media marketing efforts! If you want to learn more, check out our website and social media: LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, & Facebook.

Viral Access is an AI and data-driven digital marketing company who helps you tell your story through social media. We pair your brand with relevant micro and nano-influencers that help you increase brand awareness, engagement, and conversion. We have the systems and team in place to support large scale communications throughout Asia.

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We’re an AI and data-driven digital marketing company who helps you tell your story through social media.