Anyone who’s even scratched the surface of marketing to China will know that the mobile app and social media platform WeChat, with its 1+ billion monthly active users, is the place to be.
WeChat is China’s "life app" – where users chat with friends, have conference calls for work, share vacation photos, book plane tickets and pay utility bills. If you’re not on WeChat, you’re nowhere.
But while all of these things are true, just being on WeChat, even with an official account, is not enough anymore.
The volume of content is overwhelming, reading rates are plummeting, and users expect more than a passive consumer experience.
So, with particular attention to the travel industry – what’s next for WeChat marketing, and how can you revamp your WeChat strategy to promote maximum engagement with and conversion from Chinese consumers?
As of September 2017, there were 3.5 million active official accounts on WeChat. With so many accounts all competing for attention, the result is a general trend towards lower reading rates.
In 2017, 39% of official accounts surveyed revealed decreasing reading rates. 33% were stable, and 28% reported increased reading rates.
Comparing the average views per post for the top travel brands’ official accounts on WeChat from Q2 2017 and Q2 2018, as published in Dragon Trail’s WeChat Rankings, there have been decreases in every category tracked over this period except for cruise lines, which have stayed stable.
The decrease in average article views for NTOs is particularly sharp, with a 37.4% drop, though this comes mainly from major changes from a few leading accounts, notably Tourism Australia (-67.7%) and Destination Canada (-48.7%).
Other popular accounts, such as Visit Japan (+22.9%) and Tourism New Zealand (+26%), have increased average article views over the past year.
| || || || |
|Category||Av. views Q2-17 ||Av. views Q2-18 ||% change |
|NTOs||6,249 ||3,911 ||-37.4% |
|DMOs||2,334 ||2,172 ||-6.9% |
|Airlines||9,382 ||8,503 ||-9.4% |
|Cruise lines ||4,100 ||4,098 ||-0.05% |
With increased competition and lower reading rates, WeChat marketers have to work harder and spend more on advertising to get attention, and even if they do produce good content, there’s no guarantee this will lead to conversion.
WeChat, which started as a simple messaging app, has consistently developed new features, and as the app adds new functions and becomes an ever-greater tool in the daily lives of its users, consumers now expect more from brands on WeChat, too.
It’s not enough just to publish a few interesting articles anymore – users have come to expect interactive experiences, and functions such as booking, payment and customer service, all delivered through WeChat.
Using WeChat more effectively
While many official accounts on WeChat might be struggling, others have successfully bucked the trend, with effective incentives to increase follower engagement.
Looking at Q2 data, Viking Cruises, Air France, and Air Canada have increased average article views by 64.6%, 10.5% and 10.3%, respectively. Each of these accounts has run its own popular competition in 2018, which helped stimulate activity and attract fresh followers.
These competitions all encouraged user-interaction and sharing, with Air Canada’s competition also set up through Dragon Trail’s Fenghuo marketing platform to help the airline gather data on its most active users for more personalized marketing in the future.
Air Canada’s 2018 campaign tracked user engagement to reward the users with the biggest online reach, and create a follower database
WeChat mini-programs are one of the most important new WeChat developments for marketers, and they’re particularly well suited to travel brands, helping to guide and connect with Chinese tourists while they are in a destination.
They’re used by cities like Zurich and Helsinki to recommend local attractions and businesses, as well as provide helpful information with interactive maps, weather forecasts, event calendars and more.
They’ve also been embraced by hotels in 2018, which use mini-programs to offer information about guest services and upsell hotel products, as well as local area guides to enhance the guest’s overall travel experience.
But mini-programs don’t necessarily need to have so many functions to grab WeChat users’ attention – one of the major reasons behind Finnair’s 187.8% increase in average article views from Q2 2017 to the same period in 2018 is the release of their mini-program, which uses AI to identify the type of food (e.g., noodles, dessert) in photos uploaded by users and pair it with music, with a link to information on Finnair’s in-flight dining on flights to and from China.
Although ideally mini-programs should offer more useful services, their popularity for gaming also means that a simple program like Finnair’s can really get users engaged with the brand and likely to share and pay more attention to the account.
On top of meaningful B2C services like guides, booking, payment and LBS maps, WeChat also offers valuable opportunities to the travel industry for B2B marketing, as it is an essential work tool in China, as well as a social one.
Dragon Trail has created WeChat-based training programs for Chinese travel agents for over 20 destinations and travel businesses, all under the umbrella of CTA (China Travel Academy).
The next step, CTA Live, is a WeChat mini-program that allows travel brands to effectively run their China roadshows on WeChat through live webinars available to over 28,000 registered travel agents.
Using WeChat more effectively also means leveraging offline touch points to bring more consumers to your account and/or mini-programs.
This is accomplished through QR codes, which can be used in advertising, as well as at different places around an attraction, hotel or other travel destination. QR codes can also be personalized with an original design to reflect your brand and catch the attention of WeChat users.
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Finally, while WeChat has come a long way since its launch in 2011, messaging is still at the core of the app.
Messaging – through chat bots, live messaging, or mix of the two, allows you to provide a better customer experience, promoting loyalty and conversion. It’s well suited to a wide variety of travel services, including concierge, booking, customized travel, and customer assistance.
Not only does WeChat messaging help businesses to better serve their Chinese customers, but it also offers a valuable opportunity to understand your audience better, capturing real customer profile data that can inform current and future marketing and service on both an individual and macro level.
By asking questions and listening to a customer’s needs, a business can determine important information:
- Does the customer travel for business or leisure?
- Do they travel alone or with family?
- Are they single or married?
The answers to these and other profiling questions determined through chat provide the building blocks of personalization, so that follow-up conversations, post-purchase upselling and post-travel follow up can all be tailored to that customer’s individual needs.
At the same time, collecting data through messaging allows a business to understand their customers better on a macro level as well, informing future marketing efforts and service development. And by messaging with customers, you’ll be able to collect their individual WeChat IDs to build your Chinese marketing database.
Connect with WeChat
For SMEs who are just establishing their presence on WeChat, Connect by Dragon Trail offers an easy way to get started and make sure you are interacting straight away with consumers, the travel trade, and/or online influencers.
Connect starts with a WeChat homepage featuring a business introduction, promotional video, detailed contact information, and links to download product factsheets.
Chinese consumers and travel trade partners can quickly get an in-depth understanding of the brand and product features, and easily share the page on WeChat.
SMEs can then choose modular add-on services to suit their specific objectives, including CTA Live, a WeChat-based B2C digital contact center, and an always-on influencer recruitment campaign that notifies you when KOLs are coming to your destination.
With the right strategy, WeChat is a powerful connector, but it needs to be used in the right way to promote an interactive and helpful experience for the user rather than a passive one that won’t stand out against the competition.
There are many options for how to promote this interactivity, from competitions and games, to maps and payment.
For brands that are just getting started or need to jump-start their WeChat presence, Connect by Dragon Trail is a versatile solution that suits many different industry verticals and business goals.