Get famous or get blocked: the rules of WeChat Viral marketing

Thomas Graziani New WeChat features

A campaign by the famous WeChat KOL “New World” 新世相 recently got viral… then blocked. What are the risks of viral marketing on WeChat? And what can you learn from New World for your own campaigns?

The New World Campaign

New World is a very popular WeChat Official Account focusing on talking about societal subjects relevant to the post 90’s generation (relationships, money, mental health, etc.).

The account had an interesting history: it already got blocked for publishing sensitive content and resurrected back to 2 million followers in just a year.

This impressive growth led the founder to create an online marketing class, which was promoted as part of this viral campaign.

The campaign used a few old and new tricks in order to gain traction.

Revenue sharing

Users can generate a custom poster and share it on social media. They then receive 40% of the sales from their friends buying the course.

If these friends then manage to sell the course further to their own friends, the “initial promoter” will then receive 10% of these new sales.

In order to get users excited, New World showed a leaderboard of the top-selling sellers of the campaign.

These schemes, quite common in China, are often quickly blocked under suspicions of pyramid schemes.

Increasing price

The marketers also used a clever and less common trick: the price of the course started at 9.9 RMB (instead of 199.9 RMB) and increased by 5 RMB after every 10,000 purchases.

This created an effect of urgency which urged users to quickly purchase the online class before the price would rise.

Kamikaze viral marketing

Having already been banned once by WeChat, New World knew very well that this campaign would get their account blocked. How did they protect themselves? They used a different account in order to support this campaign.

Sure enough, the account was quickly blocked, but New World preserved their 2 million followers on their main account.

The campaign results

This viral campaign brought impressive result within 24 hours:

  • The price rose to 54.9 RMB, meaning that 90,000 courses were sold
  • The campaign generated more than 2.6M RMB of sales
  • Top sellers on the campaign earned more than 16,000 RMB!

Even if a WeChat Official Account had to be blocked for the campaign to work out, this seems like a worthwhile sacrifice.

What are the rules of WeChat in terms of viral marketing?

WeChat has strict rules when it comes to viral marketing:

  • Any incentive (money, discount, physical or digital gift) in exchange for any action (share, like, purchase, etc.) is forbidden
  • It is not even allowed to use the words “Share” (分享) on HTML5 campaigns

Tencent has robots scanning content for “viral marketing related” keywords and any infraction can get quickly noticed.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules. Companies with investment from Tencent such as Pinduoduo seem to have an easier time breaking them without repercussions (Pinduoduo, for instance, offers free products in exchange for App installs – which are promoted through WeChat sharing)

As we mentioned in a previous article, 1.4% are WeChat articles are deleted within 3 days of publishing, 87.9% by the publisher of the account and 12.1% by WeChat (mostly because of incentivized sharing).

That’s an estimated 0.17% of WeChat articles being deleted for incentivized sharing. A small, but not insignificant proportion.

Should you use viral marketing?

We usually advise our clients against using incentivized sharing for viral marketing. It goes strictly against Tencent terms of use, and consequences can be unpredictable.

Multi-level marketing can also be punished not only by Tencent but also by Chinese law. The law allows only 3-level of multi-level revenue sharing structure.

Although big brands should avoid this kind of risky campaigns, nimble startups flying under the radar can, however, find inspiration in examples such as New World. By looking at what other innovative Chinese companies are doing, we can figure out what is the line not to cross, and build our own viral and profitable campaigns.

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