Understanding WeChat as a Behaviour, not just Data


The emergence of WeChat has come to symbolise the unique relationship Chinese citizens have with digital platforms.  The current information and debate about WeChat is dominated by technical and statistical information, which while valuable, obscures understanding of China’s WeChat use as a “behaviour”.

From Chinese consumer perspective, WeChat has become a ‘must-have’ app for your phone.  The prospect of not having WeChat would have unthinkable ramifications ranging from ‘unnecessary inconvenience’  to ‘out-and-out’ social exclusion.

WeChat provides not just a way to chat, but a myriad of integrated services ranging from online shopping to gaming to remotely controlling your household appliances.  While functionality of the app is impressive, it is the seamless way that it is used by local consumers that is arguably the most striking aspect of “WeChatopian”.

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WeChatopia – China’s app addiction

From understanding WeChat, to understanding WeChat-ting (a behaviour)

A highly valued part of what we do at Resonance is advise our clients on the technical ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of WeChat and other local digital platforms, a big part of this is providing strategic advise on how brands can optimally structure their ‘digital ecosystem’ to engage their Chinese target – often WeChat in combination with one, or several platforms to create an powerful result for each client.

Through SMART@Resonance, we are now combining our technical expertise with an in-depth perspective on how we can understand consumer behaviour on WeChat as “behaviour”, or “a habit”.

To do this, we commerce each project with strategic research to understand the digital and O2O journey of our client’s target consumer group.  Part of this process, we interact with research participants via WeChat and study their behaviour through semiotic and discursive approaches.

A key part of this unique process, is to think of local use of WeChat as specific form of ‘technological subjectivity”.

Subjectivity describes the specific relationship that humans have with tools or technologies.  It has been argued as the key mechanism creating social change and human history.  For example, the world was radically altered when humans used ‘fire’ and ‘the wheel’, and more recently ‘industrial process’. Theorists have argued that each of these tool or technologies create a new relationship or social condition – put simply, a unique mentality based on the way they interact with that specific tool.

WeChat-ting as a specific mindset and behaviour

From this thinking, we have become focussed on understanding the psychological journey consumers take when they use and interact with WeChat.

  • How do they engage?
  • To what extent do they engage – passive, active, somewhere in-between?
  • What personality or mood do consumers adopt while using WeChat?
  • How do the conversations they have impact and create relationship?
  • What is the relationships that can be formed with brands on WeChat?
  • How is this relationship built and deepened over time?

When we compare this relationship to the associated behaviour created by international platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, we notice that WeChat-ism has its own particular form that relates directly to the reality and relationship that Chinese consumers have to technology.

I will outline this unique psychology in a special paper to be presented at ESOMAR GLOBAL QUALITATIVE 2016 in Berlin later this year.  For more details on the paper, read here.

However, here is my advice to you in the meantime.  If you come across data on WeChat, try to think of the corresponding behaviour or actions the data indicates.  Anyone can obtain data, but not everyone can connect it to insight.  Time to think about WeChat at a deeper level, to create real brand connection.

About Author

Jerry Clode

Jerry Clode is Head of Digital & Social Insight at Resonance. He leads Resonance SMART, providing leading-edge research, strategy and naming for brands in China using bespoke methodologies. Jerry also produces Resonance's popular China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly publication covering modern marketing methods of the world's top brands.

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