An Open Letter to WeChat: 7 Warnings From a Social Media Marketer

Jeremy Webb
10:00 am on Jul 16, 2013

Jeremy Webb is associate director at Ogilvy Public Relations, Beijing. He heads up Social@Ogilvy for Beijing, managing a team of 10 to provide social/digital strategy and execution for brands across all business sectors. Jeremy worked previously as a journalist and has published a book in Chinese on what he thinks is the best use of the English language. Find him on Twitter, Weibo, or on WeChat at: Angry_Editor.


Dear WeChat,

wechat

First of all, I must say, you’re doing a terrific job. Atta boy. Your owner Tencent is relevant again among China’s young, better-off city dwellers; when it comes to mobile you’re ahead of Facebook, and that makes me proud to be in China. You’ve even made QR codes cool again.

But enough flattery. Here’s some words of caution from somebody that’s suffered headaches of marketing on Kaixin, RenRen and Weibo. You could be perfect for ordinary people and the organizations they engage with; but if you make the same mistakes of previous platforms you won’t be around for long. Think about this as you work on the updates we’re eagerly awaiting. Don’t screw it up.

  1. Keep out the crap. It’s WAY too easy to register shuijun (水军) or ‘zombie’ accounts on Weibo; it’s also WAY too easy for these accounts to make brands and influencers look more popular than they really are. So many brands and influencers do this that it’s almost impossible to know who’s genuinely successful and who’s cheating on Weibo. What’s more, millions of fake IDs make data-driven insight a challenge and make ad placement a nightmare. Keep out the crap.

  2. Make sharing easier. It’s not just my capitalist clients that care about this – there’s much more at stake than just brand building. By being an open platform where anybody can see and share anything, Weibo involves ordinary people in social and political dialogue. Governments have sometimes responded to this. And when governments respond to the masses, things usually get better. I’m not saying you need the same ‘forward’ button as Weibo, but please think of ways that make it easier for people to share content that others have created. This might be brand marketing stuff; it might be content about corrupt officials… either way, please sort it out.

  3. Be selective when handing out verifications. Weibo succeeded by making some ordinary people think they were celebrities (I was one of these). “V”s gave a lot of people a lot of face… even people who had nothing interesting to say. Encourage celebrities to join, but please, please don’t verify them unless they are actually interesting.

  4. Let us listen. Weibo lets us listen and we love her for it. We’ve learned tons about our audiences by hearing their conversations; some brands have even reached out and solved consumer care problems. Listening means we can respond with more interesting content and products. If you need to charge us for this privilege that’s fine. We’re happy to pay.

  5. But don’t make us pay for brand pages. RenRen charged for brand pages when Weibo was giving them out for free. This is one reason RenRen lost out to Weibo. Brands with small budgets have cool things to say too; don’t price them out of the game.

  6. Don’t let brands piss off your users by pushing too much content. Nobody wants brands to post on WeChat as much as they post on Weibo; when they post to WeChat it’s more like sending an SMS, and nobody likes junk SMS. You and the brands that use you will not be forgiven if you let this get out of hand.

  7. Don’t let those big telecom companies push you around. They are on the wrong side of history and will have to get with the game sooner or later.

That’s all for now. Thanks for hearing me out. Keep up the good work!

Yours hopefully,
Jeremy (and marketers everywhere in China)

(Edited by C. Custer)

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

Replies
  • http://www.philipman.net Philip

    Great points, all very true, but the sharing part. Yes you are right about that sharing should be made easier. But the fact that Moments works in a Circles way makes the medium so much more personal and peaceful. No clutter, no noise, all relevancy. It truly makes the app engaging on a different level.

    Wechat is more in the space of Whatsapp and sms, like the author points out. Which means that it is a much more personal medium than a Weibo. I don’t know what would happen when brands massively enter my Moments, (obviously it’s opt-in), but it would feel polluted by ads and then we’re back at where we started. Hats off for what Tencent is doing, they sure have some brilliant guys over there to figure this out without breaking this unique (that’s really what it is now) Wechat experience.

    btw relevant again among young people… doesn’t Tencent own QQ?

  • Nita

    Funny image too. Attaboy!

  • Newman

    ” 4. Let us listen. ”

    This is all that marketers really care about. I agree that we chat should not let people pollute the system and make it one massive brand bukkaki bucket, however if they don’t share analytical data, then marketing agencies wont be pressured to “Bump up” numbers and be forced to spam the users because their KPI’s for this quarter haven’t been met or integrate “share buttons” and other desperate attempts to be relevant.

    Wechat should keep it a closed platform aimed at a great user experience and monetize with app integration deals. Or make a web api that is only available to the top 1%

  • http://www.ispithotfire.com Michael Nguyen (I Spit Hot Fire)

    Not clear how much digital marketing in China has advanced compared to Vietnam, but in Vietnam, “let us listen” is certainly not the norm – not as a functional component, but as a need from marketers, even from higher-level international brands.

    With any social media platform, a company should understand that the relationship is meant to be two ways. You have to listen to the good and the bad, and respond to it, and not assume that a social media channel is simply a one-way broadcast for you to blindly say what you want whenever you want. In social media, that’s, as Jeremy mentions, just spam.

Read More