WeChat: Top Social Media Trends for 2021
A five-part handbook on China’s biggest social media platforms and innovations
In the past year, Chinese consumers demonstrated remarkable resilience, transforming readily with media, retail and in particular, digital. This acceleration has been spearheaded by China’s young generation, reshaping what consumer culture looks like on a global level. A click of a button, a tap on a screen or an emoji post can collectively direct the future of any given organisation, institution and even government. And, with almost a billion citizens in total having access to the internet nationwide, social media is no longer a recreational pastime. It’s become a function central to their day-to-day lives, delivering connectivity, convenience and contributing to China’s new normal.
Bringing together platform highlights, ones to watch and expert opinion from the TONG Activation team, this five-part series addresses emerging technologies, innovations and consumer shifts happening across China digital today and tomorrow.
Launched in 2011, WeChat 微信 originated as an instant message app similar to WhatsApp, and is now the most used social media outlet in China. In its decade of development, the free app has broadened its services to act as a ‘swiss-army knife’, an app covering every practical aspect of the user’s life.
The platform hosts instant messaging, call functionality and is the primary platform for users to stay in touch. It also hosts the ability to manage payments, allowing users to transfer money to contacts, between bank accounts, pay for utilities and pay to offline merchants.
WeChat Mini-Programs allow businesses to establish an ecommerce platform to sell products directly to their consumers. According to statista.com, the MAU (Monthly Active Users) of WeChat in the first quarter of 2020 reached 1.2 billion. Although platforms like Douyin and Kuaishou are growing significantly (Douyin and Kuaishou reached an MAU rate of 518 million and 443 million respectively in March 2020, according to QuestMobile), WeChat is still the most competitive rival to other platforms in China's digital landscape and is the frontrunner in terms of day-to-day usage.
Official WeChat accounts:
Brands can establish their own official accounts on WeChat to share updates and news of their products. These accounts are also utilised by independent media titles, institutions and authorities, communities and KOLs. It’s a platform upon which users can access information, entertainment and news releases.
Despite the rapid development of the internet and its users in China over the last few years, the adoption of desktop computers is significantly less than the adoption of mobile devices for Chinese netizens. As a result, brands' official WeChat accounts are treated as the ‘official’ website by Chinese consumers. This centralised user journey means setting up a WeChat account and receiving verification is an essential stepping stone for any retailer entering the Chinese market.
ONES TO WATCH
For 2021, video expansion for WeChat is on the horizon as predicted by TONG Activation Manager Boer Zhu: “Expect to see the growing emergence of WeChat Channel 视频号, (literally translated as ‘video account’) and the platform being used increasingly for livestream content and short form video”.
“This is the response Tencent built and will keep investing in to fight back against the rise of platforms like Douyin, Bilibili and Kuaishou”.
Having begun testing the platform in January 2020, the channel reached over 200 million daily active users within 5 months, according to Allen Zhang, founder of WeChat. In the most recent WeChat annual flagship conference, Allen stated their future focus was to shift towards 'short form content’ and invest more to support video creators when sharing and managing their video content on WeChat, offering these creators a new territory in which to grow and explore.
In practice, we have already observed major global corporations making use of this new channel, including Fendi, Burberry and Prada, who have each opened a verified WeChat Channel as a video-first platform to communicate with dedicated clientele sharing their latest campaigns and creative.
This is part one of a five-part series on Chinese social media platforms covering WeChat, Bilibili, Douyin, Weibo and RED. To read the other four articles, visit our Intelligence page.