Why recent updates to WeChat’s Subscription Account change everything

Editor’s note: A version of this post first appeared on WalktheChat’s website. WalktheChat specializes in helping foreign organizations access the Chinese market through WeChat, the largest social network on the mainland.

WeChat just modified the format of the “subscription folder”. Why is it game changing?

What is the change?

This change of the display of the subscription account messages transforms what used to be a list of accounts into a more “Facebook-style” newsfeed.

This is the biggest change made to WeChat Official Accounts since their launch in 2013. Let’s categorize the impact in 3 categories:

  • Impact on reading behavior and follow/unfollow rates
  • Impact on e-commerce and access to HTML5 within WeChat Official Accounts
  • Impact on advertising

Impact on reading behavior

#1. Reading rate will be more balanced between “popular” and “less popular” accounts

It used to be that when users wanted to read an account, they had to explicitly open it. This is great for accounts which publish daily and are already parts of users habits, but accounts which published less frequently ended up being forgotten.

Now, all accounts are treated “equally”, with the articles being pushed in chronological order. No matter if you publish once a week or once a month, you will still get a chance to catch user’s eyes.

#2. Unfollow-rates will increase

Under the old system, it was easy to simply “forget” about an account you were following. The account would send you a bunch of notifications, but you would only read the ones from the accounts “pinned” at the top of your subscription folder.

Now, the account you followed in order to get a discount or a chance to participate into a lucky draw will keep popping on your feed. If the content is not super-relevant, it’s likely you will unfollow them.

#3. Opportunity for algorithmic sorting on the long run

With this update, there is definitely a great opportunity for WeChat to be more pro-active about pushing different type of content to different users. So far, WeChat could not promote the content with the highest engagement rate, and could not recommend specific type of Subscription content to specific users.

With this new “feed view”, WeChat can now pin on the top more popular stories or the ones which are more relevant to a specific user.

Impact on e-commerce and access to HTML5

#1. It is now less intuitive to access the bottom-menu of official accounts

In the previous interface, users had to open the WeChat Official Account in order to see the list of messages. They would therefore be more likely to see the bottom-menu of the account, and to click on some of the menu items (for instance to open an e-commerce experience.

With the new feed-view, users will likely spend less time on the account main page, and see the bottom-menus more rarely.

#2. Mini-programs become more important with the new view

As the bottom-menu becomes less prevalent, Subscription Accounts need to find new ways to take users to e-commerce experiences.

One way naturally comes to mind: that’s one of the advantages of e-commerce mini-programs, which enable a direct link from content to e-commerce.

 

Impact on advertising

#1. Pricing of advertising will change

In the new view, the first 2 articles are prominently featured, and users have to click in order to see the remaining articles.

In the past, Key Opinion Leaders had a decreasing scale of price if they would feature brands in some of their articles (top-dollar for the first article, a bit less for the second, a bit less for the third, so on so forth…). With the new view, the top-2 articles are going to be particularly expensive/important, while the 3rd+ articles are going to drop in price.

#2. Opportunity will open-up for WeChat to include ads in subscription feed

Right now, ads in subscription accounts were displayed at the bottom of official account articles, which was inconvenient and had low click-through rate.

With this new “Facebook-style” feed, it is clear there is a good opportunity for WeChat to include advertising in this feed that will be related with users subscriptions.

Conclusion

This major update of the Subscription Account feed will change the game in terms of pricing and follow-rate for accounts.

Most importantly, it shows WeChat is serious about making significant updates which will turn the current WeChat Official Account system into a healthier content feed.

In the end, this is good news for Key Opinion Leaders, marketers and end-users alike.