1) WeChat Launches A Separate Application for Official Accounts
Details: A week ago, WeChat released their latest update (iOS Update 6.6.7) and with it came the new app 订阅号助手. The app works towards improving the ability to manage a user or brand’s social presence. The idea of a separate app was met with controversy during January. WeChat has always put emphasis upon implementing new features into itself as opposed to separate from it. However it is safe to say that the new app is more reminiscent of the Facebook Page Manager — a quality-of-life addition instead of a full blown application.
订阅号助手 provides users several new features that better the process of managing an OA, through several ways:
- It has now become possible to read and reply to new messages and comments on the iOS,
- Authors for Official Accounts can now make edits to their previously published articles, given that they follow a character limit.
- Account managers are able to login through their WeChat and view all OA that are bound to their WeChat ID. This makes it significantly easier for brands to manage and monitor their brand presence on WeChat.
Impact: Even if brands are not publishing entire articles through a mobile device, the new changes will still be of immense benefit as it will now allow content to be worked upon anywhere by brands and authors. Mistakes can be immediately edited, new information can now be updated and provided without delay.
2) Launching a Mini Program for WeChat Official Account Backends
Details: The mini program 公众平台助手 is similar to the iOS Official Account app, and even uses the same logo (as of the time of writing this). More importantly, they both allow managers to access their Official Accounts and answer messages on the go. There are two key differences however: as it is a mini program, it will be a feature of the central WeChat app itself, retaining the convenience that users know and love (and of course, allowing users of any device to access). However, unlike the iOS app, the mini program backend will not allow users to edit articles.
Olivia Plotnick, a Marketing Manager at Brandigo has become a supporter of both the mini-program and the iOS app.
- In her interview with Jing Daily, she says: “The mini-program lets you easily switch between accounts and quickly respond to messages. This has reduced response times and the danger of missing messages within the 48-hour window.”
- While discussing the difference the app and mini program are making, Olivia says: “Chinese mobile users are constantly on WeChat, it’s great to respond quickly and keeps them more engaged with your account. The new app and mini-program make it much easier to be responsive.”
Impact: This change will make it significantly easier for brands to keep up with the comment and message traffic that is coming in. The ability to maintain contact with followers on mobile devices will be most notable. Important messages will have timely responses and brand-user interaction will be higher than ever before due to this mini program.
3) WeChat will not have a “Facebook Style” newsfeed for Subscription Accounts
Details: Facebook’s news feed algorithm revolves around gathering information around what users seem to want, and then uses that data to push similar and seemingly relevant content to its users. While in itself this is not a bad thing, it can lead to some undesired consequences. This includes the unprompted removal of a brand or user’s content from their follower’s page.
- After the release of Facebook’s news feed update to increase ‘meaningful interactions’ in January this year, journalists from Guatemala reported their readership halving overnight. The update had caused them to vanish from most of their follower’s feeds.
- Another identical incident occurred in December 2013, where Facebook changed its news feed algorithm to promote “high-quality articles”. Immediately, popular news sites like Elite Daily and Distractify saw steep declines in traffic. The social news site Upworthy saw its traffic figures completely halve by January.
Luckily for WeChat users, Allen Zhang has adamantly stated several times during the Annual Conference that they will not be changing their newsfeed. Mr Zhang says that WeChat will continue remaining a decentralised system where the user has total control over the content that they want to see. He makes it clear that WeChat will never decide to push out a certain type of content for different customers.
Impact: For brands, it is important since there are countless organisations that rely most on WeChat to generate traffic, and the possibility of losing out on even a quarter, let alone half, of their audience without any prompt can be devastating. Thus, WeChat providing users with choice, is in truth not only important for the user, but also for brands that rely on WeChat to have a voice.
Furthermore, WeChat is a relatively new platform, or at least compared to the likes of Facebook. And so following Facebook’s footsteps is not a bad idea since despite the flaws and negative press year after year, Facebook is still the most widely used social media platform. WeChat declaring it’s own independence goes a long way in showing that WeChat hasn’t just been out of the shadow of other mainstream social media giants — it’s already positioned itself among them.
4) WeChat will continue to focus on the search feature
Details: Originally, the search function was difficult to make use of. The quality of content that would be at the top of the results was inconsistent, and there was just not a lot of use outside of finding very specific content. These issues hindered what would otherwise be a very straightforward and useful function. The recent update in May however will be a step in the right direction for WeChat’s search function.
The search function update takes inspiration from numerous other internet platforms. For starters, users now have an array of search categories that they can use. As a result, finding specific content will be easier. The search categories can be used to narrow down their search results to the best fit. On the same note, the process of finding new content that the user might not have even been looking for will be easier too with the launch of these search categories.
The search categories that are now available to users include:
- Most popular news in the past 24 hours
- What your friends are looking at
- Articles from Official Accounts you follow
- What are nearby people reading
Impact: These new search categories will open up the traditionally closed ecosystem that WeChat has, and may help users discover new official accounts. For brands, these search categories will provide them with additional avenues for traffic that were previously hindered by unclear SEO guidelines and lack of use by the general user base.
5) Mini Program will continue to be the main focus of WeChat development, with a heavy emphasis on games
Details: According to Technode, WeChat is testing a new feature that will heighten the visibility of mini programs based on relevant searches. This new visibility boost will provide recommendations of items within relevant mini programs the moment a user begins a search. For example, searching for ‘courier’ will provide the user with a list of functions i.e. ‘track packages’ ‘call a courier’ ‘my past packages’ and ‘address management’, all of which would be linked to related WeChat mini programs.
As the WeChat app grows in uses and application, the need to install additional apps become slimmer every day. Therefore, Tencent has intensified in its endeavor to build upon its already massive intellectual property (IP). One way they have done so is through external developers gaining access to the mini game platform. Thus, opening up sources of revenue and more importantly, an entire pipeline of mini games.
- The first batch of mini games were released on April 4, and consisted of a variety of card, puzzles and numbers games.
- One of which, a player wins by combining a set of numerals to reach a total no. of 2,048, according to tech news site 36kr.com.
- Jisu App’s survey showed that two-thirds of Mini Program users were 35 or under, meaning that placing extra emphasis on games may actually be a very good course of action. Furthermore, according to Allen Zhang most WeChat users didn’t start to use Mini Programs until late 2017 when the Mini Program platform for games was opened.
Impact: WeChat can boost its outreach, and in turn adoption through the visibility feature. Nearly 33% of users have never heard of mini programs, thus this improvement can be the key to reaching those types of users. This may be troublesome for Apple’s China App Store though as the visibility upgrade to their mini programs moves WeChat one step closer to becoming a full on digital hub.
This will reduce the need for users to install proper smartphone apps, implicating Apple since China is an important growth market. As for Tencent allowing Game developers to work on their mini-game platform; ultimately it is a mutually beneficial opportunity. Game developers gain a means of promoting their work while also receiving a generous 30-50% of ad revenue.
6) New Profiles Makeover for WeChat authors
Details: As for the update itself, the details are scarce but the premise is simple; authors will have the choice to create a dedicated page for themselves. The page will allow users to find a history of their published works, and this will effectively allow authors to write for several Official Accounts at the same time. The other 2018 announcements that were mentioned will also benefit the focus on authors.
- The Official Accounts App and mobile backend will allow authors to receive criticism and edit articles on the go to ensure constant quality. Regardless of where the author is, they will be able to work on their article portfolio, be it uploading, editing or simply interacting with readers.
- Furthermore, the search function categories especially ‘Articles from official accounts you follow’ and ‘What are nearby people reading’ will benefit authors that write for OA with active followings, gaining traffic and industry wide recognition.
Impact: Thanks to the improved search capabilities, authors will need to constantly maintain high quality in their works as any article could gain an unexpected surge in readers. This is a step in the right direction for WeChat to indirectly maintain standards on popular content that is being published on the platform. This change also allows brands to get insight on who they are recruiting to write for them, which is important as poor content will create missed opportunities at best, and destroy a company’s reputation at worst.
7) Tips for WeChat authors on iOS device will return
Details: In April 2017, tipping services for iOS devices was halted due to it being uncompliant with Apple’s in-app purchase policies. Apple declared tipping should have the same fees as in-app purchases, meaning they would receive 30% of all tips. Tencent rejected this as tipping was a free service, provided to users to build user-author engagement and support, and was meant for third parties (even Tencent included) to make money off.
However after half a year of negotiations, Allen Zhang has announced that they and Apple had reached an agreement. Just months later, the new tipping system was unveiled on iOS devices, along with several new changes. Most importantly, tips will now go directly to the author of the article, and not to the public account itself.
According to Technode, this new tipping system will require authors to set up an account via an invitation from an eligible public account. The account is activated and then managed using a purpose built mini program. When a public account is preparing an original piece of content to post, there will be a setting for that piece to earn tips which go directly to the named author.
- WeChat users will find an orange button at the bottom of the content page that will allow users to insert payments to an author’s WeChat Pay account.
- The orange buttons used for tips will also offer suggested amounts, these amounts are possibly representative of how much other users are tipping.
- All types of public accounts that publish 3 articles by one author are now eligible to set up tipping accounts on behalf of their public account. All public accounts can create up to three tipping accounts at present, according to the press release.
Impact: With all the updates Tencent has been pushing out this year (enhanced search capabilities, smoother optimised account management for OA, opening the mini program platform to external developers just to name a few), the WeChat app has become unparalleled in utility and use. However with that comes the need for a flourishing user base who will support the product. Tipping services is a genius way of promoting interaction and engagement between authors and readers, and by bringing it back to a strong segment of their consumer base (users with an iOS mobile device), Tencent shows they are paying attention to their users.
8) WeChat for Work upgraded with new features
Details: WeChat is often used for leisure and for casual means, there’s no denying that. At the core, it is a messaging app irregardless of how many features Tencent adds on to it. Similarly a fact that is also hard to deny, is WeChat’s influence in workplaces — one that has been spreading globally. Last year, the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) conducted research on 1,000 users and 9,000 business account managers, revealing some unsurprising statistics:
- More than half of the respondents (57%) say that their new contacts are mostly work-related. For those at management level the percentage is even higher (74%) indicating that WeChat-at-work is a phenomenon that is affecting all levels of the enterprise.
- When asked about which work-related actions users had accomplished through WeChat, fewer than 20% of WeChat users said that they don’t work on WeChat at all, with upwards of 85% using WeChat at the office every day.
- WeChat is more commonly used as a ‘major communication tool’ than telephone, SMS, or email.
- Half of all small business owners surveyed use WeChat for commerce
- More than four in five (81%) users said that WeChat ‘offers a useful communication tool’ for work.
The results back up the fact that WeChat has become a growing necessity in offices. The more knowledgeable an organisation and their employees are about the resources WeChat offers, the more they can benefit from the advantages of WeChat. (Market research & analysis firm Econsultancy discusses CAICT’s statistics in detail here)
On that note, one of the most important WeChat tools that organisations should know about is WeChat for Work. The app is used for internal company communication, allowing employees within organisations to coordinate different tasks, projects and ideas. Soon though, it may be a ticket for savvy marketing teams to gain the edge on competitors. As mentioned earlier, Allen Zhang has announced that WeChat for Work will be updated with a new feature. This feature will enable employees to communicate with users outside of the company. WeChat was already an often-used platform for sales people to stay in touch with their clients or partners. WeChat for Work’s new feature will allow them to stay in touch as they are doing now but will additionally allow a brand to collect important data about the communication
- The gathered data will be invaluable when planning more effective marketing strategies.
- As information will be collected as communications occur, businesses can now preemptively tailor certain strategies and discounts to clientele without delay.
- By having communications become more open and accessible, it places a company’s marketing team and/or more experienced sales members in a better position to provide help to employees.
Impact: WeChat for Work is used widely among brands as a way to provide convenience for the users. This new feature will retain that convenience, while allowing data to actively flow through to a company’s database and CRM systems. As a result, it will significantly improve logistics, clientele awareness and multi-management for brands.