WeChat, the multi-functional social media platform, is central to everyday life in Mainland China – instant messaging, social media and a mobile payment app all rolled into one. As a person who is living there, I’d struggle to spend a day without using it.
However, when working with global clients, the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the WeChat platform never fails to surprise me – what exactly is it? How do we leverage it? Should we consider WeChat as a strategic channel to reach out to clients? Everyone seems to know that it’s important, but they don’t know how to integrate it into their broader communications strategy.
The reality is that for financial institutions in China, WeChat can be a game-changer for propagating thought leadership.
In this article, I share my thoughts on why you need to consider setting up a WeChat account for your company and building up thought leadership on it as part of your digital marketing strategies if you plan to develop businesses in China.
What is WeChat to the Chinese audience?
Let’s break down some of the mystery and start with what you can do with WeChat in mainland China.
WeChat started as a WhatsApp-like messaging app for closed communication between friends and family, but now it’s much more than a social messaging tool. Today it is a one-stop-shop for digital services, from payments and e-commerce to news and entertainment, developed by China’s internet giant Tencent. Statista indicates that as of the end of March 2023, WeChat had over 1.3 billion monthly active users.
People rely on WeChat for interacting with friends on Moments (a feature like Facebook Timeline), reading articles published from WeChat Public Accounts (public, personal, or company accounts), calling a taxi, ordering milk tea, booking movie tickets, making a doctor appointment, and paying bills with a single click within the app.
Leveraging thought leadership on WeChat
For financial institutions, WeChat presents an opportunity for publicizing thought leadership, allowing companies to share their expertise, build credibility, and engage directly with their audience. It also essentially acts as a Chinese website, validating your operations in the region. Moreover, it serves an important role in the sales funnel both internally and externally.
In the dynamic financial landscape of China, thought leadership can help institutions stand out and build a loyal customer base. WeChat, with its massive user base and advanced features, provides an excellent platform for global financial institutions to become thought leaders. McKinsey and Morningstar serve as great examples of this. They both tailor and localize content that garners more than five thousand views on average per post. By delivering valuable content, engaging with users, collaborating with influencers, leveraging WeChat's unique features, and maintaining consistency, financial institutions can successfully build thought leadership in China.
Content Creation: A comms 101
The first step in implementing digital marketing on WeChat is to create high-quality and insightful content. Much like LinkedIn articles, financial institutions can leverage WeChat's Official Accounts to publish articles or mini-blogs on financial trends and insights. This type of content should not promote the institution's services as WeChat bans sales and promotions in the financial category. Additionally, people tend to engage less with salesy content when browsing their phones. You can consider sharing your opinion on current industry trends and market insights to build your brand’s authority and trust. Video features can be another effective strategy – consider creating educational or informative videos that demonstrate your expertise or provide insights into your industry.
To amplify your reach, consider collaborating with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in your field, as their endorsement can significantly boost your credibility and visibility. Remember to consistently measure and optimize post performance can help tailor content that resonates with your target audience. Lastly don't forget to encourage the sharing of your content within WeChat groups to maximize exposure.
WeChat vs. LinkedIn
Some organizations feel they can accomplish the same goals and objectives in China via LinkedIn. However, compared with LinkedIn’s global audience, WeChat allows companies to specifically target and communicate with the Chinese-speaking community. LinkedIn also announced it is pulling out of the Chinese market, making it an unreliable long-term communications solution.
In relation to LinkedIn, WeChat also allows companies to engage with users directly and offers a broader range of content-sharing functions that financial institutions can use to answer questions, solicit feedback, and even provide personalized financial advice. This two-way interaction builds trust and fosters strong relationships with customers, a key to thought leadership. Some of these options include:
- Collaboration with Influencers: Partnering with WeChat influencers, known as KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders), can be an effective strategy. These influencers have a large following and can help spread the institution's thought leadership content to a wider audience.
- Leveraging Advanced Features: There are many advanced features integrated into WeChat offers such as Mini Programs, Video channels, eCommerce and live streaming. Financial institutions can build innovative financial services on these platforms, showcasing their expertise and innovation in the financial sector.
Consistency is key
To be successful, much like all digital platforms, consistency in messaging and regular updates are crucial. Consistent content delivery not only keeps the audience engaged but also reinforces the institution's position as a reliable source of financial information – this is the only way you’ll viably build an engaged audience base.
The journey toward becoming a thought leader is not an overnight process. It requires continuous effort, strategic planning, and consistent implementation. However, the rewards – improved brand reputation, increased customer loyalty, and enhanced market position – make it a worthwhile endeavor. LinkedIn and Twitter, primarily focusing on short-form public messaging and lacking an extensive range of functionalities, can’t rival the comprehensive features and dominance of WeChat in the Chinese-speaking community. WeChat's deep integration with various aspects of life and its massive user base solidifies its position as a unique and powerful platform that any other social media platform cannot easily compete with.
Janet Lin is an Associate Account Manager in Cognito's Hong Kong office