Sheryl Shen
Sheryl Shen
24 February 2020 0 Comments

WeChat has finally created its answer to the gaping hole in its content ecosystem. WeChat Channels provides Tencent’s answer to the short-form video/image content dominated by the likes of Douyin, Kuaishou and Little Red Book.

About a month ago, WeChat launched a semi-internal testing trial for its new feature – WeChat Channels. Although still in its early stages, many content creators such as WeChat Public Account bloggers, celebrities, KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders), and professional sellers of brands couldn’t wait to get their hands on the new feature and give it a shot.

There was speculation that WeChat Channels would be the Easter egg that the founder of WeChat, Mr. Zhang Xiaolong, hinted at the end of his new year speech through WeChat Open Class. He stated that the new feature is designed with the aim to fill the short content space that he believed WeChat has been missing.

Meanwhile, the  “Quarantine Economy” – an operating model where sellers need nothing but their phones to operate their businesses – has surged in the past month since the coronavirus outbreak. People are starting to recognize the variation of content marketing and the importance of operating in such channels. This new WeChat feature might be just the right tool at the right time. With high hopes, it might grow to be essential for brands to succeed in the China market.

What is WeChat Channels?

WeChat Channels is a new feature which appeared on WeChat in late January 2020. It is still under testing and not yet available to the general public wanting to be creators.

However, there has been a way to participate in the trial. Content creators could scan a QR code leading to an application page and submit a trial request. Proof of content-creating ability and follower numbers was requested to ensure the success of the application. Successful applicants were then granted full access, which included being able to create their own accounts and upload new content. However, as of last week, the portal to the application was “temporarily closed”, although there is speculation it will resume soon. You can also participate in the trial thanks to random selection.

Through their Discover menu, users can view, like, comment, follow and share content but not create their own.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the feature itself:

WeChat Channels Feature

  1. WeChat Channels is located right below WeChat Moments, the most frequently-used feature on WeChat. Many say, by placing it in the “golden location,” WeChat demonstrates their high expectations and signals Channels’ potential significance in the future. Easy access to the feature guarantees considerable amount of daily active users (DAUs); checking Channels every time they open the app might become part of a WeChat user’s daily routine.
  2. The Instagram-like operating page of WeChat Channels is a simple one-page scroll down of contents made up mostly of videos and photos followed by short caption text. A hyperlink to posts/articles (generally text-based content) on WeChat Public Account can be added to drive new traffic to an existing account, ultimately to increase the account’s exposure and popularity.
  3. A creative user generated content (UGC)-style video posted by Tencent on WeChat Channels for Valentine’s Day. In the video, a Tencent programmer complains about her boyfriend for not replying for almost an hour on the big day. She is surprised by a video conference meeting in which her boyfriend gives her a sweet surprise with the help of some colleagues on the call. In this video, Tencent cleverly achieves two things: increasing positive association with the brand, showing how to leverage the feature’s unique public-yet-intimate setup to create relatable content that appeals to consumers.

WeChat Channels provides an opportunity for traffic

Over 300-million people used mini-programs daily last year, and their spending on mini programs “was close to triple 2018’s total.” This is one reason for WeChat’s colossal aim to help businesses perfect “their own closed business loops” in the coming year. As part of the execution plan, WeChat is prepared to better develop the WeChat Mini Program Search feature to amplify exposure of both Mini-Programs and Public Accounts to increase users. With WeChat Ads looking for more room to grow, and the talk of WeChat Livestream in the making, Channels may also play a big role in WeChat’s holistic approach to achieve this aim.

Mini Programs and Public Accounts are plagued by limited points of discovery besides direct search, QR code scan or WeChat ads. WeChat Channels can help drive traffic as users start their consumer journey from discovery and research (a term known as “种草”which will be covered in a future article), to purchase decision through seamless switches between different in-app features such as Public Accounts, Mini Programs, and WeChat Pay.

A growing mountain to climb

In theory, WeChat Channels could become the vital link that completes the closed loop that WeChat is aiming for, and push WeChat to be one step closer to becoming the all-in-one marketing tool for brands. However, just as we have witnessed in the past, the obstacles to success in the digital marketing world of China are extremely complex and competitive. With so much saturation in the market, consumers are exposed to countless online ads on a daily basis, so much so that many subcontiously ignore them. This makes traditional ad-based marketing on short content digital platforms difficult to maintain a healthy ROI. Even on Douyin, China’s top short video platform with more than 400 million DAUs, it is not uncommon for major brands to have almost no traffic on their official account and yet hundred thousands of likes on the KOLs’ posts/livestreams, promoting the same brands’ products.

However, there are still opportunities to woo the target market on short content platforms such as WeChat Channels. With the right relatable content and messaging targeted at the right consumers and frequent traffic, a high ROI may not be an unachievable dream, even for small to medium-sized companies.

Brands should pay close attention to the development of WeChat Channels, and consider incorporating this into their marketing strategies. This feature could just be another failed project for WeChat such as the short-lived Weishi video-recoding feature. Or it could be like Public Accounts – which was initially designed as just a tool to replace spam ads but turned into something that now generates billions of yuan in revenue and serves as the must-have for any brand. We will  keep you posted!