How news organizations can use WeChat to reach users in China

byJames Breiner
Jun 05 in Miscellaneous

Once again I find myself learning new things from my students here in China, where I co-direct the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University.

Their assignment was to recommend a social media marketing strategy for a news organization or business that they would like to work for. Several of the marketing plans they developed included WeChat, which is a free text- and voice-message service for mobile phones. WeChat allows its 300 million users worldwide to connect with anyone in their phone's address book.

Student recommendations

The student who chose The Wall Street Journal suggested it improve its WeChat service by having some of its reporters interact with followers. "Right now, followers do not get any response to messages sent on WeChat."

Another student recommended a WeChat campaign for CCTV, China's main television network, that would include short news videos designed for viewing on smartphones. The student suggested that CCTV recruit some young people to be video reporters and allow users to upload their own videos, modeling CNN's iReport.

A student designing a campaign for an Indonesian airline chose WeChat as a platform in order to reach the potentially lucrative Chinese market, whose mainland audience can't access Facebook and Twitter.

WeChat's strength and weakness: privacy

WeChat users can broadcast messages to groups, follow brands, share photos and videos, and connect to new users through location services. The voice messaging feature is especially popular among Chinese speakers who don't want to take the time to punch in Mandarin characters or Pinyin.

The disadvantage of WeChat compared to the Chinese microblogging site Weibo (a Twitter-like service) is that messages are private. They go only to a person's address-book contacts, each one of which is linked to a particular telephone number. On the other hand, the link to an actual phone number is an advantage from an advertising perspective: WeChat doesn't have the zombie accounts that abound on Weibo.

Marketers like WeChat because messages passed among contacts on this platform are more likely to be viewed, close to 100 percent, as opposed to an estimated 15 percent of Weibo users who might see a particular message from a contact in that network. (To explain: You see virtually every text message your phone contacts send you but not every Facebook or RenRen update your friends make.)

China marketing experts compare WeChat and Weibo in this video. Read some thoughts about the popularity of WeChat in China here.

This is an excerpt of a post which originally appeared on the blog News Entrepreneurs. It is published on IJNet with permission.

James Breiner is co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University. He is a former Knight International Journalism Fellow who launched and directed the Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Guadalajara. He is bilingual in Spanish and English and is a consultant in online journalism and leadership. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via World Economic Forum.