WeChat’s New Monetization Experiment: Celebrity Accounts[Updated]

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Chen Kun, a famous Chinese actor, rolled out a premium service to his followers on WeChat. Paying to subscribe to his official account, fans will receive exclusive photos, or songs, e-books and even Good Night voice messages from him.

Chen's WeChat official account is a full-round webapp.

Chen’s WeChat official account is a full-round webapp.

The  monthly subscription is priced at RMB18 (no more than $3). Payments are powered by WeChat Payment that was made possible with WeChat 5.0.

It is believed WeChat team is behind this business and Chen’s official account which isn’t just a chatting tool but a full-round app (Update: Local media reported that it is developed and ran by a mobile app development company, Bit-Sea). There are several channels on the page for the paid subscription; subscribers can click open songs directly listed in the music channel, read the e-book by the actor in another channel, like or leave comments on a piece of news, or join in the forum and interact with each other like on an every online forum.

It’s unlikely WeChat would take a revenue cut as it’s the first case. It must want as many celebrities to try it out as possible. Celebrity is considered a key factor for Sina Weibo to become popular two to three years ago. What’s interesting is some celebrities also have made money off Weibo but in ways that help brands do social marketing — such as publishing or forwarding brand campaigns. Sina later developed a service called Fensitong to regulate the market and managed to take revenue cuts there.

Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, is excellent at Internet subscription business. It was one of the first in China to have users pay for a package of virtual goods or online services for a monthly fee. Years later, its membership subscription model, including more than 20 packages and the whole membership system, has been adopted by a lot of Chinese services including Sina Weibo.

WeChat and China Unicom jointly launched a SIM card not long ago that include some extra offerings similar to those with Tencent subscriptions. It is believed that’s a sign that WeChat will launch premium subscriptions sooner or later.

But Mr. Chen’s case is the first time Tencent tried to help a third party to make money off its own user base. Some local media tried to make money through WeChat by featuring display ads in articles sent to their WeChat followers. Generally speaking, celebrity fans must be more willing to pay for content provided by their stars.

So far WeChat’s monetization attempts include mobile games, stickers and the customized SIM card.