Tapping China’s social giants for engaging events

Streaming, KOL appearances and facial recognition can boost engagement for live brand events in China.

Create your own content: Guests ‘inflate’ virtual cities via wind-o-meters at the opening of Volkswagen’s Future City in Beijing.
Create your own content: Guests ‘inflate’ virtual cities via wind-o-meters at the opening of Volkswagen’s Future City in Beijing.

As WeChat has evolved from its roots as an instant messaging platform into a lifestyle superapp, it’s become an enviable tool for event marketers to curate live experiences—well, as much as its walled-garden structure allows, anyway.

For a start, WeChat is the platform through which its users connect to other services. This includes Chinese event management platforms such as iDEvent and live photo-streaming platform VPhoto. It is as simple as scanning a QR code via the WeChat app, and users are connected to linked event pages.

Linked accounts may facilitate better targeting and audience profiling for event marketers, but can also help drive personalised audience engagement, says Tina Li, senior events project manager at BI Worldwide China.

“My favourite function of iDEvent is that visitors can take a selfie on the app, and later have all their event photos pushed to them through the app’s facial recognition technology,” says Li.

Since it is a WeChat-linked account, photos from the live photo stream can also be shared to WeChat Moments, the Facebook-like newsfeed. The facial recognition technology may not necessarily cure people of their selfie habits, but Li says attendees like the instantaneous delivery of photos without having to scour through the event feed later.

Antoine Gouin, managing director of Auditoire China, says although such functions may seem like a fad, their popularity is heavily driven by user behaviour on social media.

“What people are sharing on social media are their experiences—even if it is just latte art. So what we do is to stage experiences that people can relate to,” he says. “For that to happen, you have to be surprising, spectacular or emotional. Then you will have a chance to go beyond your natural target audience because people want to share with their family and friends.”

Yet such an approach is not without risk, says Selene Chin, managing director of Pico Pixel. “The flipside of a platform that is accessible, personable, relatable and emotive is often overlooked,” she cautions. “We all want our audience to upload happy pictures of our events, hashtag them and share them far and wide, but are you ready for them to do that with a negative spin?” Chin advocates for a more “informed” approach, as well as “empowering” the consumer-facing team with information during and after the event.

Gouin also points out that a lack of synergy between the experiential marketing and digital teams can often hamper attempts to create a seamless experience.

“In today’s world, it is hard to separate the strategy from social media, events or communications. Everything fits together and must be well coordinated with the digital team,” he says.

Meanwhile, Li points out that WeChat is not without its limitations, despite often being touted for its massive user base and seemingly omnipotent presence.

Influence… KOLs at a Maybelline China event sold 10,000 lipsticks in two hours via Meipai livestreams

“WeChat has too many restrictions and the distribution channels are limited. Brands cannot set up a separate page just for an event, but are required to redirect [users] to their own sites or a third-party platform,” she says.

Microblogging site Weibo, she says, gives event marketers greater leeway in terms of content, albeit with a smaller user base— 376 million monthly active users compared to WeChat’s 980 million.

“Another drawback of Weibo is that it is always gaining less traction and engagement, many of its users spend their time on the platform rather frivolously,” Li adds.

KOLs changing social media

WeChat and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are the two marketing constants in China’s influencer-obsessed market.

Jinnie Wei, marketing and PR manager, Apax Group, says a huge chunk of marketing spend is often taken up by KOLs, whose prices vary depending on the popularity of the influencer.

“Brands may have their own following on WeChat, but popular KOLs usually have a bigger and very loyal fan base that follows their accounts religiously,” she says.

Successful KOLs are good at building a personal rapport with their following, making fans feel as if they are living their lives vicariously, thanks to live-streaming. “There has been an uptake in Weibo over the past two years, and since its partnership with Yizhibo (a live-streaming platform), KOLs can stream their content directly from their Weibo accounts to their followers without switching to other platforms,” says Wei.

KOLs are now the key people at fashion shows and launch events, and whether they’re sitting in the front row, or drinking champagne in the branded VIP lounge, you can be fairly sure that viewing fans—aka your virtual attendees—are placing orders for the items online. “At the end of the day, it is the sales figures that matter if it is a retail-related event. Beyond the visitor numbers, we are also interested in the number of views for the livestreams,” says Wei.

Auditoire China’s Gouin, however, cautions the use of KOLs for live brand engagement. “You have to be careful with KOLs because many are opportunistic, asking for money to post and then doing the same for other brands,” he says. “It has become counterproductive for brands. Instead, it will be more interesting to get KOLs to co-create the content,” he adds.


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