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WeChat...what's that?

Posted by: Sue Disler, Cedar SA

While visiting our London office in June this year, I attended a CMA Digital Breakfast. These monthly meet-ups always provide valuable insights, but the speaker who caught my attention on this occasion was Tim Green, managing editor of The Mobile View.

In his talk, Tim identified an app that he believed was one to watch – WeChat. This is a mobile text and voice messaging communication service developed by Tencent in China, which may be less well known in the UK, but was one with which I was quite familiar. 

A little like Whatsapp? Well not really, in fact WeChat offers a host of additional functionality – video calls, customised emoticons and chatrooms etc – all of which shift it into the territory of other social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Skype. According to GlobalWebIndex it has become the world’s fourth most popular mobile chat app, with a penetration of 13 per cent.

Thirteen per cent, how did that happen? After its initial popularity in China (more on that in this blog post from the vaults) WeChat set out to conquer new territory. In 2013, they kicked off with a single ad targeting 15 markets that featured global superstar Lionel Messi as a way of breaking down geographical boundaries. 

Since then, in South Africa, we’ve have seen a range of campaigns aimed at arousing an interest (and following) from our very diverse markets. WeChat teamed up with the immensely popular 2014 Survivor SA Champions TV programme, where you could vote for your favourite captain and win weekly cash prizes, and facilitated streaming radio content when local celeb Gareth Cliff launched CliffCentral.com on the platform in May 2014.

WeChat (or Weixin as it’s known in China) has four key features: 

  1. Hold to Talk
    Instant voice messaging

  2. Moments
    Private social-sharing with viewing rights restricted to friends and mutual contacts

  3. People Nearby
    Location-based features to meet new friends and contacts

  4. Official Accounts
    An in-app media rich channel that can connect brands in a one-on-one conversation with users. Typically used by businesses, content providers, celebrities and more.

The Official Account is where brands can really play with content. The best example I’ve seen so far is Burberry, whose followers on WeChat were able to experience its February 2014 London Fashion Week Autumn/Winter show with a personalised piece from the runway, exclusive content from a member of the Burberry design team describing each look, and access to behind-the-scenes photos of VIP guests. 

In April, when Burberry opened its new flagship store in Shanghai the collaboration continued with the creation of a ‘parallel social event’, where followers could interact with a series of London and Shanghai skylines by shaking, swiping or tapping their devices.

WeChat has so many interactive features on the app it can get a little confusing, so it seems only reasonable that in South Africa we are seeing cautious brand usage. Many are only making use of the simple built-in QR code and populating their Official Account with feed-based content. For me, however, the USP of this platform, and what sets it apart from others, is that it allows for the creation of a truly personalised, one-on-one experience between a brand and a user. In theory that is gold.

So for the cautious, watch this space and, for the courageous – to infinity and beyond!

As an aside, WeChat makes it money from those extremely cute animated emoticons, gaming and of course m-commerce. It recently announced the launch of its first foreign game, a special edition of Candy Crush saga, and more will follow I’m sure.

Sue Disler is Head of Digital at Cedar SA

Posted in CMA blog
19thAug 2014


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