By Doris Li
According to the latest report from Tencent, WeChat’s monthly active users reached 889 million in Q4 2016. However, given that WeChat is a relatively closed communications circle, it has been challenging for marketers to monitor the trends on the platform. With WeChat being a dominant social media channel in China, measuring trends and data on this huge network could bring valuable insights to brands and businesses keen on the China market.
The situation is now changing with the launch of WeChat Index, an integrated search and browsing behaviour data tool on WeChat that will show the latest trend on the platform for the past 7, 30, or up to 90 days. It provides a social listening tool that most WeChat marketers have been longing for.
To use the function, users can either search for ‘微信指数’ (WeChat Index) in WeChat to locate the search browser and then enter the keyword to see the trend, or type ‘微信指数 + Keyword’ to get the result directly. Like most of WeChat’s business-related functions, users need to be able to type Chinese to use it.
The purpose of the WeChat Index, as explained in one of Tencent’s media statements, is to ‘help individuals, companies, and governments to understand the real-time social issues, incidents, and public topics that internet users pay the most attention to. It will also help companies to make marketing and advertising decisions, and monitor the effects by analyzing users’ interests.’
As one of the largest content distribution platforms in China, Tencent/WeChat holds a huge amount of data which makes WeChat Index a valuable tool for marketers to identify the latest social trends to ride on and create popular topics as well as understand the influence lever of key opinion leaders. However, we won’t get too excited just yet as WeChat Index still has its limitations.
While WeChat index is based on the data generated from search queries within WeChat, articles on official accounts and articles shared on personal WeChat Moments, the algorithm used to perform the calculation is still unknown. So it is not clear what the index number refers to exactly, which may leave WeChat Index as a questionable tool to provide actionable insights.
Meanwhile, the search keywords are still limited. Only the common keywords are listed in WeChat trend, and many keywords can not yet be found in WeChat Index. Along with some politically sensitive keywords, data for other terms is restricted for no reason. Ambiguity and contradictions are also prevalent across WeChat Index.
Compared with China’s biggest search engine Baidu index, WeChat Index lacks an ability to customize for time periods, locations and user demographics. Although Tencent has collected comprehensive data from users across different social platforms under the company, it is surprising that WeChat Index still doesn’t have the ability to segment the target audience and identify key trends within any geographical distribution. And unlike search engines, WeChat Index doesn’t allow various combinations of keywords, so essentially, it is only good for getting a general idea on certain popular keywords and trends within the network.
Data fraud has long been an issue on China’s internet which has created a special profession called ‘water army’ (水军): a group of Internet ghostwriters paid to post online comments with particular content or fake clicks to increase social article views and likes. The issue is not new to WeChat with it being revealed last year that some official accounts had found means to manipulate the number of views of their articles. he unknowns of the algorithm of WeChat Index may cause an increase in the ‘water army’.
Despite of the restrictions of WeChat Index at the moment, it is certainly a good start for WeChat to expand the commercial value the platform. It offers marketers a new KPI tool to measure the success of their Chinese social media campaigns.