Virality in WeChatchachabeauty
At Grata, we’ve been relying mainly on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In for our content marketing, but last week we finally got around to sending out our first marketing blast to all seventy-six followers of our WeChat Official Account. Within twenty-four hours, our post had 25,575 views and we had 930 new followers.
Image: This is what five days of page views look like after almost 6,500 people share your article. [NB: Translations by the author. We didn’t link to a web version of the article, hence the “0” for web views.]
To be fair, this was a pretty good nugget of content. A large deck of survey data had been released the week before by Tencent Tech, and we noticed that no one had picked it up in English-language media. So we invested a bit of time and translated it. Some of the content was fluff, but there was also some gems (e.g. WeChat was responsible for US$15.3B of mobile data spend last year). We proudly posted it on SlideShare (VPN required) and shared the link on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Linked-In. I was thrilled when we hit over 4,000 views on SlideShare and went to share the good news on WeChat.
This was an accidental experiment. By staggering our usual content distribution channels a week before sharing on WeChat, it was easy to see the contrast in reception. Of the 2,117 people who followed our WeChat Official Account in the less than five days after the article, 57 of them (2.7%) messaged us directly on WeChat to speak with us. We had incoming leads from a dozen SMEs, a publicly traded company, and the deck was picked up on several industry news sites. With the exception of a small bump when Slideshare’s own content team generously tweeted our deck, the rest of the growth happened only after we shared on WeChat:
Why Sharing on WeChat is Different
There are many different ways one could interpret this data and many disclaimers I should make on assuming causality to the channel itself. I would, however, like to make a few humble observations about what is different with sharing on WeChat and what might go some way to explaining our results.
WeChat seems to have really nailed the delicate balance of an platform that commingles personal and business contacts. Almost eighty-percent of WeChat users follow one or more of the 8.5M Official Accounts (“OA”s). I credit much of this success to the way Tencent biased the mechanics of the platform in favor of consumer protections.
Businesses can choose from two types of OAs, a Subscription account which can broadcast a message at most once daily, without a push notification, and that lands in the user’s content subscriptions folder. The other type is a Service account, which can broadcast at most four times per month, but does send a push notification, and appears in the user’s inbox inline with their personal contacts. If your content isn’t quality, I can swipe and unfollow your OA in seconds. Otherwise if a WeChat user messages my Official Account, we can talk freely for up to forty-eight hours since the last message. Beautiful.
Additionally, the OA does not see any unique identifying information about me as a user. They see my nickname, which is non-unique, that I can change at any time, and could be anything from my real name, if I so choose, to a meaningless string of emoticons. They also see my profile photo, geographic region, gender, language, and status message, most of which are optional.
The way OAs interact with their followers is through an encrypted WeChat ID that is unique to that OA, i.e. non-transferable. No OA can sell its user data to another, the list of followers has no value if a third-party provider the OA uses is hacked (Snapchat, take note), and users aren’t entered into some creepy re-targeting sale of their personal data. Compare the difference in data shared with the business between SlideShare, the most business-friendly analytics of any of these channels, to WeChat:
Pro tip for anyone prospecting for leads: In SlideShare, a download or a like can signal pretty strong intent to a business. I can hover over the picture to get their (likely) real name and open their Linked-In profile. Now off to Rapportive (also LinkedIn) to quickly guess their email address. WeChat is more protective of user’s information:
All of this goes a long way in making people feel comfortable about following a brand.
After I broadcast my post through Grata’s Official Account, I shared the article on my WeChat Moments feed. Moments has some key differences with a Facebook-style feed:
- No algorithm. It’s a pure feed of your entire network, although you can un-follow contacts and block contacts from seeing your Moments. Most people keep up-to-date with all of their Moments.
- In-app notifications. You get a subtle red dot on your discover tab in WeChat whenever there is new content in your feed. Since 55.2% of WeChat users open the app ten or more times daily (again, our report) you have very short cycle time on sharing and re-sharing (for a great explanation of why viral cycle time is the most important factor in viral growth, look here).
- First-degree connections. WeChat Moments maintains higher relevancy as it is only first-degree network connections, not friends of friends. Only mutual friends can see comments and likes of posts, which allows for more personal conversations and different threads to spin off of the same post.
- Very few ads. This could change, but for now it seems Tencent is keen to make advertising in Moments only affordable for large brands. Official Accounts do not have the ability to post in a user’s Moments, only the user can choose to share an OA’s content there.
I have 345 contacts in WeChat (embarrassingly I counted them all for this article and by the time I got to the bottom of my contact list discovered WeChat counts them for you), about one quarter are work contacts and the rest are friends and social acquaintances.
None of my other social networks are intermixed like WeChat, and this is standard for most WeChat users. So when I share WeChat content that is of interest to all of the business contacts I make through Grata, I not only have a very personal channel to reach my sales leads, but those people go on to share through their personal and business contacts too.
While I was thrilled with the performance of Grata’s post, this was a post entirely in English on a platform used mostly by Chinese. WeChat is a monster for content distribution and it’s common to see articles in Chinese top out at the public pageview counter at 100,000 views in a matter of minutes.
And all of this in spite of the fact that the button to share in WeChat is so inexplicably hard to find that most content producers add instructions to the bottom of every post describing how to share and how to follow their account.