In the latest update on WeChat’s plans for global domination, WeChat is currently beta testing an expansive collection of new features called “City Services” [our translation] in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Foshan.
If you want to check it out, you need to set your language in WeChat to Chinese and set your region to one of the three pilot cities. After a moment, you should notice a new icon in your wallet:
The City Services section displays a large menu of services already operational for the pilot, including:
booking doctor appointments
traffic camera feeds
paying your home electricity
booking long-distance transportation
air quality monitoring
paying traffic fines
reporting incidents to police, and more.
If you’re unfamiliar with WeChat Wallet, these new services are in addition to all of the previous verticals WeChat is already covering: flights, movie tickets, local reviews, taxi booking, mobile phone credits, financial products, etc. Below is the City Services home screen for Guangzhou.
With almost ubiquitous adoption and addictive usage among Chinese smartphone users, WeChat has the scale to get cooperation from almost any government organization and industry in China. The roll out of City Services further cements WeChat’s position as the global leader in a trend towards messaging apps as portals to mobile services.
Below are screenshots of a few of the more interesting new features, already live in pilot cities:
Booking Doctor Appointments
This is solving a huge pain point for many locals. Our bet is that this will be very popular and this is why Tencent chose to put it at the top of the menu.
Traffic Camera Feed
Perhaps a bit gimmicky given traffic conditions can be more easily viewed on your phone’s map, but it’s fun to play with and not without some utility:
Reporting Incidents to Police
Just about any local government service would benefit from a reporting mechanism this simple. Think busted street/traffic lights, illegal parking, blocked storm drains, etc. We assume a later version will allow us to drop a pin on a map and categorize our complaint.
Paying a Traffic Fine
Anything that means I can avoid going to a bank or government office to settle a payment is a huge win. Settling outstanding traffic fines with my WeChat wallet? Yes, please.
We’ve been relying mainly on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In for Grata’s content marketing, but last week we finally got around to sending out our first marketing blast to all seventy-six followers of our WeChat Official Account. Within twenty-four hours, our post had 25,575 views and we had 930 new followers.
To be fair, this post was about WeChat, but we post mostly about WeChat on our other social channels so it should be why people are following us elsewhere, too.
A large deck of survey data had been released the week before by Tencent Tech, and we noticed that no one had picked it up in English-language media. So we invested a bit of time and translated it. Some of the content was fluff, but there was also some gems (eg WeChat was responsible for US$15.3B of mobile data spend last year).We proudly posted it on SlideShare and shared the link on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Linked-In. I was thrilled when we hit over 4,000 views on SlideShare and went to share the good news on WeChat.
This was an accidental experiment. By staggering our usual content distribution channels a week before sharing on WeChat, it was easy to see the contrast in reception. Of the 2,117 people who followed our WeChat Official Account in the less than five days after the article, 57 of them (2.7%) messaged us directly on WeChat to speak with us. We had incoming leads from a dozen SMEs, a publicly traded company, and the deck was picked up on several industry news sites. With the exception of a small bump when Slideshare’s own content team generously tweeted our deck, the rest of the growth happened only after we shared on WeChat:
Why Sharing on WeChat is Different
There are many different ways one could interpret this data and many disclaimers I should make on assuming causality to the channel itself. I would, however, like to make a few humble observations about what is different with sharing on WeChat and what might go some way to explaining our results.
WeChat seems to have really nailed the delicate balance of an platform that commingles personal and business contacts. Almost eighty-percent of WeChat’s almost half-billion monthly active users follow one or more of the 8.5M Official Accounts (“OA”s). I credit much of this success to the way Tencent biased the mechanics of the platform in favor of consumer protections.
Businesses can choose from two types of OAs, a Subscription account which can broadcast a message at most once daily, without a push notification, and that lands in the user’s content subscriptions folder. The other type is a Service account, which can broadcast at most four times per month, but does send a push notification, and appears in the user’s inbox inline with their personal contacts. If your content isn’t quality, I can swipe and unfollow your OA in seconds. Otherwise if a WeChat user messages my Official Account, we can talk freely for up to forty-eight hours since the last message. Beautiful.
Additionally, the OA does not see any unique identifying information about me as a user. They see my nickname, which is non-unique, that I can change at any time, and could be anything from my real name, if I so choose, to a meaningless string of emoticons. They also see my profile photo, geographic region, gender, language, and status message, most of which are optional. The way OAs interact with their followers is through an encrypted WeChat ID that is unique to that OA, i.e. non-transferable. No OA can sell its user data to another, the list of followers has no value if a third-party provider the OA uses is hacked (Snapchat, take note), and users aren’t entered into some creepy re-targeting sale of their personal data. Compare the difference in data shared with the business between SlideShare, the most business-friendly analytics of any of these channels, to WeChat:
All of these protections goes a long way in making people feel comfortable about following a brand.
After I broadcast my post through Grata’s Official Account, I shared the article on my WeChat Moments feed. Moments has some key differences with a Facebook-style feed:
No algorithm. It’s a pure feed of your entire network, although you can un-follow contacts and block contacts from seeing your Moments. Most people keep up-to-date with all of their Moments.
In-app notifications. You get a subtle red dot on your discover tab in WeChat whenever there is new content in your feed. Since 55.2% of WeChat users open the app ten or more times daily (again, our report) you have very short cycle time on sharing and re-sharing (for a great explanation of why viral cycle time is the most important factor in viral growth, look here).
First-degree connections. WeChat Moments maintains higher relevancy as it is only first-degree network connections, not friends of friends. Only mutual friends can see comments and likes of posts, which allows for more personal conversations and different threads to spin off of the same post.
Very few ads. This could change, but for now it seems Tencent is keen to make advertising in Moments only affordable for large brands. Official Accounts do not have the ability to post in a user’s Moments, only the user can choose to share an OA’s content there.
I have 345 contacts in WeChat (embarrassingly I counted them all for this article and by the time I got to the bottom of my contact list discovered WeChat counts them for you), about one quarter are work contacts and the rest are friends and social acquaintances. None of my other social networks are intermixed like WeChat, and this is standard for most WeChat users. So when I share WeChat content that is of interest to all of the business contacts I make through Grata, I not only have a very personal channel to reach my sales leads, but those people go on to share through their personal and business contacts too.
Content Distribution Machine
While I was thrilled with the performance of Grata’s post, this was a post entirely in English on a platform used mostly by Chinese. WeChat is a monster for content distribution and it’s common to see articles in Chinese top out at the public pageview counter at 100,000 views in a matter of minutes. And all of this in spite of the fact that the button to share in WeChat is so inexplicably hard to find that most content producers add instructions to the bottom of every post describing how to share and how to follow their account.
If your Official Account is having success marketing on WeChat, Grata provides a multi-agent contact center to help your business provide more responsive service when your followers message back. Launch a demo in seconds at www.grata.co.
To celebrate the fourth anniversary of WeChat’s launch, Tencent Tech shared a 38-slide deck on January 27, 2015 titled “WeChat’s Impact: Inaugural Report on WeChat Platform Data” [our translation]. The report boasts some impressive statistics, most of them pulled from extensive survey data done by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology over the last year. Some of the highlights include:
55.2% of users open WeChat more than 10 times a day
In the last year, WeChat users consumed US$15.3B worth of mobile data
53% of organizations allocate spending to maintain and upgrade their WeChat Official Accounts
Please note the report only includes data from Chinese users and official accounts. In translating the deck, we tried to be as true as possible to the original data and format. Enjoy!
Many thanks to Devin Petty (@CDHSLLC) for correcting our mis-translation on Slide 19. The dollar amounts refer to how much companies are investing in their Official Accounts rather than revenue from Official Account activities. The deck has been updated to reflect this.
WeChat just made it much easier for businesses to manage Official Accounts with the launch of certifiedthird-party WeChat Plugins. Businesses can now enhance much of their account functionality by adding plugins to their WeChat Official Account, similar to WordPress.
Up until now, it was difficult for Official Accounts to work with more than one third-party provider. This meant service providers pretty much had to build a product that did everything to be competitive.By simplifying how businesses work with third-party products, it will enable more specialized solutions for Official Accounts. Businesses can now enable multiple WeChat plugins customized for specific functions or industries such as e-commerce, hospitality, and CRM.
Installing 3rd-Party WeChat Plugins
Certified platform providers will have a button on their site to add them to your authorized plugin list.
The providers name should now be listed on the second tab, Authorization Manager (授权管理).
Click to enable the provider’s WeChat plugin.
Grant Access to Specific Functionality
At the start, Official Accounts can grant third-party access to six different bundles of platform rights:
Messaging and Event Management (customer service, broadcast, and template messaging, etc)
Follower Management (user profile data, user location, and user groups)
Account Management (menus, advanced QR codes, basic official account data)
OAuth2.0 (allow users to log-in to apps and websites with their WeChat ID)
WeChat Store Management
Duokefu Software (enable/disable forwarding of customer service messaging to Tencent’s Duokefu software)
Both subscription and service accounts can use the Authorization Manager feature, but the Official Account must first qualify for the relevant functionality on its own. For example, the Official Account must first apply to WeChat for the WeChat Store authorization before it can grant those rights to a third-party. Official Accounts do not gain any rights by proxy via a third-party provider.
One of the foundations for a brand’s success on WeChat is setting a unified brand strategy for managing multiple WeChat official accounts.In our last post, we wrote about helping your customers find your official accounts by policing fake accounts and trademark infringement. Equally important for large brands, with potentially hundreds of official accounts, is your internal strategy. Let’s look again at what a BMW customer or sales lead sees when she searches for “BMW” or “宝马” official accounts. Not only does she have to filter through several fake accounts, she also has to navigate over two-hundred individual dealerships.
Like any brand with outlets or subsidiaries, individual BMW dealerships have their own management, their own deals that they offer, and of course their own WeChat official accounts. How can BMW funnel users to the account that will best be able to help them? What are the best practices for protecting your brand standard experience and providing unified messaging across multiple channels?
Standardize Your WeChat Account Branding
Looking at the list above, BMW account names mostly follow a similar format to designate the dealership. Their icons are mostly similar and many of the dealers have verified their accounts. At the same time, there’s no obvious unified account for BMW and we get different results searching in Chinese versus English.
These issues aren’t unique to auto manufacturers. Chains, franchises, and subsidiaries of any kind need to provide botha brand standard experience and localized service. It’s important to have policies in place to avoid confusion, and help customers find your accounts.
Set account name and branding conventions. Have all of your subsidiaries register WeChat accounts that follow a specific name format makes it more likely that they will appear together in search, and helps distinguish them from fake or similarly-named accounts (fan clubs, etc.). Provide a template for your subsidiaries to use when creating their icon. Note: You cannot change an account name or WeChat ID after it is set, but the icon can be updated once every thirty days.
Verify all official accounts. WeChat lists verified accounts first in search results, and the verified badge gives customers confidence that they have found an official channel.
Set an account promotion strategy. Most account discovery is happening through QR codes. Help customers by standardizing where they can find your QR codes, both offline and online. Consider requiring that any subsidiary promotional materials include your brand’s official account QR code alongside the subsidiary QR code.
Enforce content and usage guidelines. This is an obvious one, but there are special considerations for WeChat. Beyond what content and how often accounts broadcast messages, how fast are you as a brand responding to customer service inquiries? If subsidiary accounts are using WeChat menus, consider setting a template so when a user visits another subsidiary account, that location’s contact information or local specials, for example, are in the same place.
Interconnect Your Official Accounts
If your brand uses WeChat for sales or customer service, subsidiaries can be valuable but challenging to integrate into fluid conversations. In our initial consultations with clients, one of the most helpful exercises we do is map out all the possible user flows through their various officials accounts. Where are unknown/first-time users routed? If you’re not providing 24/7 support, how do you manage offline messages? How can you transfer conversations from your brand to a subsidiary and vice versa?
WeChat Userflows: What’s Possible
Take for example a hotel guest, who makes a last-minute booking through Marriott China’s WeChat account. At the end of the booking, can they hand off the user to the concierge at that property so she can book an airport pick-up? Can they prevent the customer, who they already have in a dialog, from having to exit the conversation and page through all of Marriott China properties before finding the correct hotel’s WeChat account?
WeChat does not currently support either internal (agent-to-agent) or external (official account-to-official account) routing. However using WeChat’s public developer platform, Grata provides out-of-the-box internal routing for WeChat and can custom arrange solutions to solve for almost any external routing configuration. This works for brands operating under one consolidated WeChat official account or brands managing multiple WeChat Official Accounts.
The Value of Networked Accounts
The value to brands of interconnecting official accounts should not be underestimated. Here are four of the biggest gains:
Shared WeChat CRM Database – One of the most important tasks when using WeChat for business is identifying who a user is from an often nondescript WeChat User ID. If you’ve already done this for a follower of one of your official accounts, why not make that information available when that user messages any agent across your entire chain?
Simplified Account Discovery – Using Grata a follower of any one of your WeChat official accounts can be connected to any agent across your entire brand. Lessen the burden on your customer to locate the right official account and make brand loyalty more convenient.
Cost Savings – It might be impractical for your outlets to all offer 24/7 support, or support in multiple languages, but one centralized customer care team makes this achievable for many brands. The central team can pick up messages in the off-hours, and subsidiary agents can transfer multilingual conversations to a native speaker with one-click.
Brand Standard Quality of Care – If you want to roll out a consistent quality of care across your entire chain, the only way to really support this is by having visibility into all your brand’s official accounts and having a centralized customer care team to step in if any single subsidiary isn’t able to support the initiative. You can also share digital content and prepared responses across your brand so every subsidiary is using brand standard messaging.
If you want to learn more about how Grata can help you manage your brand’s WeChat Official Accounts, contact us, or if you already have a verified WeChat Official Account, take us for a free test drive.