Editor’s note: This was contributed by Jeremy Webb, vice president at one of the largest advertising companies operating in China. Jeremy has lived in Beijing for the past 10 years, helping companies build their brands and businesses on Chinese social media. Follow him on WeChat (angry_editor) or on Twitter.
First, I hope you didn’t mind the last letter. “Warning” was meant in the nicest possible way. And I hope it didn’t seem arrogant—your last four years, since I wrote that open letter, have proven you needed no advice from anybody… least of all from me.
Almost single-handedly you’ve led a global news narrative about Chinese innovation. People used to call China a “copycat” before you came along. You now make Facebook seem old, Snapchat seem frivolous, and Whatsapp seem archaic. It makes me proud to work in China.
But you don’t need me to tell you this. You already know I’m a fan. You’re central to most of our campaigns. We spend tons on you and want to spend more. But what else could you do for us?
Keep it real. In the last letter I implored you to “keep out the crap” – not letting people fake success. You’ve done OK. Fakery is not as blatant as it was on Weibo, and you’re regularly shutting down traffic farms. Keep it up. Do more. For WeChat to stay great we need great content; for there to be great content, we need reliable metrics that cannot be faked.
Make sharing easier. I mentioned this in the last letter. Easy sharing is great for the virality of our clients’ campaigns, but also for society at large. Weibo deserved credit for fostering vibrant societal conversation that scrutinized local government and dodgy business practices alike. WeChat’s closed environment means you’ll have little such legacy. So maybe there’s more you could do?
Tell us more. Before I asked you to let us listen to what people are saying. Such data helps us make better and less annoying ads. Well, you didn’t let us know what people are saying, but you did let us know what people are searching for with WeChat Index. Thanks for this – great start. But be it search or listening, we’re hungry for more insight.
Keep improving your ad tools. Last time I didn’t say anything about your ad products. I was being polite. They were weak back then and you’ve improved them greatly. Cheers. But keep on improving. Sure, I know you want us to focus on utility, but many of us are still looking for straightforward awareness. Keep improving the targeting and bringing the costs down, and we’ll keep on spending.
Don’t distract us. Us ad guys love shiny new objects. Many got excited about mini programs, for example. I didn’t… and am still hoping to be proven wrong. Another one is live broadcasting. Stay away from this too. We get distracted by these things and spend more on making the content for them than on getting enough people to actually see them.
Find new high ground. Western internet platforms get huge scrutiny from the media and public. This makes them better (mostly). Think of the shit Facebook gets for ad fraud and that YouTube gets for extremist content. There are things you could change… How about starting with data security? With little encryption, for example, yours leaves much to be desired. I believe China will soon become more concerned about this. Get ahead of the game.