Last month, the hugely popular messaging app WeChat - or “Weixin” as it’s called in China - opened up to brands and celebrities so that people can follow them just as they would on Sina Weibo or Twitter. And now Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX - News) is quite possibly the first global brand to jump aboard this new social marketing platform and has signed up for WeChat.
It marks the very likely start of a flood of companies onto WeChat in China. The app has over 100 million users registered around the world. But aside from the numbers, the appeal of the messaging app is that those users are very likely to be young, monied, and urban - and that’s the kind of Chinese consumer that everyone’s after.
Starbucks is promoting its WeChat presence on its China homepage using the distinctive customized QR codes (pictured below) that are integral to the messaging service. Scanning that QR code lets you add Starbucks as a contact; and then by sending an emoticon to consent to getting messages from the coffee retail chain, the Starbucks social invasion of your contacts list is complete. The American chain begins by sending a short music video promoting some overpriced fruit tea drink with a fancy name, and some other occasional missives will presumably follow.
Admittedly, the whole need to find and scan a QR code is a little awkward, but that's the WeChat system for brands as it stands. For friends it's easier, as their personal WeChat account is linked to a phone number, so they can be added automagically. So, for now, the QR code element is a stumbling block to this new marketing channel taking off.
Hopefully now that major brands are on WeChat - in addition to their other presences on Sina Weibo, Renren, and a few others - they’ll use it in some innovative ways, like by involving WeChat users in special deals, perhaps via sending coupons as messages (or QR codes!) within the app. WeChat is different from Twitter and Weibo in not having a real-time stream of information to browse, so it’s going to require some different thinking and social marketing strategies.