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WeChat’s new content sharing policies and how they affect brands

January 16, 2020 |   Ada Wang

WeChat, China’s most ubiquitous social media app with more than 1 billion active users, has recently changed their content sharing policies, effectively banning incentivised sharing and downloading, regulating group buying and preventing brands’ unauthorised use of users’ profile pictures on the platform. These changes have big implications for brands who have been leveraging these techniques to increase brand awareness and acquire leads and customers.

So what do WeChat’s new content sharing policies mean for brands on the platform? In this post, we take a close look at the new rules and how they may affect brands.

Key points from the “WeChat External Links Content Management Specifications”

On October 18, 2019, WeChat’s new content sharing policies - called “WeChat External Links Content Management Specifications" – detail new and stricter rules around incentivised sharing and downloading, the use of external links and apps, and group buy campaigns. These new regulations took effect on October 28, 2019. While ostensibly to protect user privacy and prevent spam (a move that has been welcomed by WeChat users), these regulations have also clamped down on external providers who offer the same or similar features to those available on WeChat, effectively eliminating any competition on the platform.

To clarify, external links refer to links that direct users outside of the WeChat platform but are shared within WeChat. These links may include web pages and Html 5 links.

Here are some key updates in the latest “WeChat External Links Content Management Specifications”:

  1. Brands are forbidden from editing or re-using users’ profile pictures for campaigns without users’ consent.
  2. Brands are forbidden from incentivising users with monetary rewards, physical prizes or virtual prizes (including but not limited to red packets, coupons, vouchers, points, data, credits or information) to share any content with their network containing external links.
  3. Brands are forbidden from incentivising users with monetary rewards, physical prizes or virtual prizes to download apps or open H5 games through an external link.
  4. Brands are forbidden from encouraging users to invite friends to assist them to increase the user’s chances of winning a competition.
  5. Brands are forbidden from using misleading or deliberately confusing messaging to entice users to click on an external link (for example, it’s a violation of the rules to have a button that reads “Expand to read the full text”, but which directs users to an external app).
  6. Group buy campaigns are more heavily regulated.

If you carefully read the new rules, you will find:

  1. Group Buy campaigns are still allowed, as long as they abide by the new regulations.
  2. External links are strictly controlled, but internal links (that is, those that link to pages or programs within the WeChat platform) are not affected.

How these WeChat’s new content sharing policies affect brands

As China’s social media powerhouse, many brands rely on WeChat to target users and grow their reach, and users’ networks have been a particularly fertile resource for brands to find new leads. So will these new regulations negatively impact on brand’s abilities to increase their audience?

In short: yes, but probably not as much as you might think.

These new rules mean that WeChat can check spamming and harassing behaviours that can often arise from such incentivising techniques, creating a better experience for users and helping to ensure they stay within the WeChat ecosystem. It also helps WeChat to clean up traffic, limiting the damaging effects of external links that may contain viruses or bugs, and can be very difficult to control.

This is all good news for brands, and does little to curtail their abilities. Though brands are effectively restricted to WeChat’s closed ecosystem, WeChat’s mini programs, which provide the infrastructure for ecommerce transactions among many other things, are powerful enough to allow brands to provide the features users want and need without needing to resort to external websites or apps.

The most affected will be smaller businesses that are wholly reliant on WeChat and rely on incentivising techniques to entice users to external links in order to grow their customer base. Most brands, however, won’t be too adversely affected by the new specifications – assuming they follow the rules.

How brands should respond to these new regulations

Now that unregulated external links are blocked, the demand will turn to the regulated e-commerce portals – namely WeChat mini programs.

Brands would do well to embrace mini programs – they are highly popular, and brands are recognising various ways to leverage this popularity and drive sales. They are also powerful – a mini program has far greater capabilities than, say, a brand’s official Facebook page. They are places where consumers can browse products and campaigns, live chat with customer service representatives, quickly check out with WeChat Pay, and more.

When it comes to WeChat, the user experience is Tencent’s primary concern – and while new regulations such as these may negatively impact brands in the short term, in the long term it’s good for brands to be on a platform that does everything it can to attract and retain users. Rather than enticing users to share content with their networks using incentives, brands need to think what will encourage users to share brand’s content of their own accord, whether that’s a stellar product or an entertaining or thought-provoking campaign. Brands also need to consider how they can get the most out of mini programs, and how they can use them to address the needs of their customers.

To learn more about what mini programs can do for your brand, check out our free mini program webinar, facilitated by Sinorbis COO and co-founder, Dandan Cheng. Download it now.

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