WeChat (Weixin in Chinese), the hottest mobile social app in China, now has more than 600 million users. Because WeChat dominates mobile Internet usage, marketers are putting high expectations on its marketing potential. However, WeChat is not a good marketing tool yet for most brands, as it has several limitations:

  • WeChat has core features of privacy and one-to-one communications. User behavior on WeChat is very different from on Weibo. The information that users share on WeChat is private and can be seen only by personally approved friends; as a result, WeChat is used more as a communication tool for friends to keep in contact. Users are less likely to repost brands’ information massively, as marketers expect them to do on Weibo.
  • Branded accounts have restrictions in sending messages. There are two types of public accounts — service accounts and subscription accounts — that marketers can use to send one-to-many messages to their WeChat followers, but each type has restrictions. A service account has custom-menu functionality that works almost as a mini-site embedded in the WeChat platform, but it allows only one message per month. A subscription account allows, at most, two messages per day, but with less advanced functionalities. In addition, all subscription accounts are folded together, so it's hard for users to notice new messages.
  • Measurement is tough when APIs are limited. For quite a long time, WeChat has been focusing on growing a large user base and not so much on monetization. Marketers can hardly get enough data to measure their marketing efforts on WeChat, since there have been no APIs available to support them. WeChat recently announced that it will open nine APIs to all verified public accounts to provide better marketing offerings to marketers, but that is still at very early stages.

What should marketers do with WeChat? They should use it more for servicing and supporting than for broadcasting. As I mentioned in my previous report, Winning Social Media Marketing In China, WeChat's one-to-one instant communication makes it good tool for supporting. In fact, some marketers, such as China Merchants Bank and China Southern Airlines, are taking the lead and using it for just that reason.