WeChat South Africa wants your brand
by Herman Manson (@marklives) WeChat, a social media and messaging app backed locally by media giant Naspers, entered the South African market in 2013. WeChat South Africa MD Brett Loubser says the local business spent its first year focused on brand building and gaining traction with new users.
Unfortunately, WeChat does not break down its global user base, so we have to take it at its word that its reception in the SA market has been particularly warm. But research conducted by third parties, such as researcher World Wide Worx, seems to support Loubser’s enthusiasm.
World Wide Worx found that more than half of SA adult cellphone users living in cities and towns (10.6 million SA adults) are using the more established WhatsApp messaging platform on their phones. WeChat, meanwhile, had already hit 5% of the market by February, and this is expected to rise to 13% in the next 12-18 months.
You would think that 5%+ market penetration in such a short time is something to gloat about — but Loubser laughs out loud when it is put to him and implies that it is already much higher. Loubser believes the platform will achieve ‘critical mass’ within the next year.
Naspers owns a significant stake in Tencent, the Chinese technology giant that owns WeChat, as well as the instant messaging application QQ, with its 808 million active monthly account holders. WeChat had around 355 million monthly active accounts at the end of 2013 Q4, of which a 100 million was outside China.
WeChat, entering its second year in the market, is shifting focus from just brand awareness to differentiation. It needs to get its message out to the market that this is not simply a messaging app, although it does that, too, but a social and content platform as well.
Feature-rich social sharing, focused on user privacy
The app is feature-rich, set up for social sharing yet much more focused on user privacy than rivals such as Facebook (which incidentally now owns WhatsApp), says Loubser. Messaging will focus on the app’s blend of functionality and privacy, which is particularly of high relevance to a younger audience.
“This is a mobile-only environment,” he says. “There is no website version of your social feed. This isn’t going to stay on the internet forever.”
While person-to-person communication is at the core of WeChat, the platform (not a utility!, reminds Loubser) allows opportunities for third parties to create engagement with users.
Unradio on WeChat
A case in point is DJ Gareth Cliff, whose new ‘unradio’ offering CliffCentral.com – streamed live through an official account on WeChat (WeChat is a sponsor of the new venture).
“What excited me about this partnership with Gareth Cliff was that, in one swift movement, we could communicate that WeChat is far more than just a messaging app. When the biggest DJ in the country chooses your all-in-one social platform to launch his new station, you know you’re on the right track,” Gerjo Hoffman, marketing manager of WeChat in South Africa, said in a statement to the media.
There is space on WeChat for content marketing as well. Brands can set up pages with assistance from the WeChat team. It has already hosted content for Big Brother Mzansi and Survivor SA to deliver high-quality user experiences through branded-content channels for each show (Naspers also owns satellite TV platform Multichoice, on whose channels both shows are broadcast). Several radio stations already broadcast via WeChat, and News24 and Pricecheck also push content through the app.
The app has a built-in QR reader, meaning we might finally seem some uptake on those codes; very few consumers have bothered to download QR readers independently. WeChat itself generates revenue through freemium games and the sale of emoticon ‘stickers’ but there isn’t a cost for brands to come on board.
As with all social platforms, managing brand reputations through WeChat can be tricky. It hasn’t stopped brands such as McDonalds, Pepsi and Burberry already giving it a go in China.
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