Tencent unveiled a new version of its WeChat app for iOS on September 25, version 6.7.3, that includes a few new features that will no doubt excite WeChat users, such as the ability to record facial expressions and turn them into editable gifs. But ultimately, the new update is bad news for those hoping to market to Chinese consumers via the app and its ecosystem as the use of subscription accounts and their ability to put content in front of users will be substantially curtailed. It’s especially bad for newcomers to the platform, who will have an significantly harder time standing out in an increasingly crowded space.

The newest update for WeChat will make it even harder for destinations and brands that haven’t established much of a presence on the platform

WeChat will soon have a “Frequently Read” content row, which will display the most popular content from accounts users have subscribed to. This new row will be stickied to the top of the subscription account main page and will notify users of updates sent out from their most popular subscription accounts. Less popular accounts will be displayed with a headline and a small side image, whereas more popular accounts will display a more prominent, larger image that will be more attractive to users.

Advertising on WeChat, or any social media platform for that matter, is always a question of real estate. The more digital “space” allocated to content, the more likely it will be consumed by users. For the tourism accounts that are already popular on WeChat, these changes won’t have a big impact on their ability to reach potential Chinese tourists.

However, more destinations around the world are waking up to the reality of Chinese tourism and its explosive potential to transform local tourism industries, and getting on WeChat to promote themselves to potential tourists is more important than ever. Unfortunately, even if they can attract subscribers, they are now at an even greater disadvantage on the platform as newcomers.

In many ways, WeChat is simply following trends across a host of social media platforms of favoring already popular and lucrative accounts, at the expense of newcomers

Of course, this kind of prioritization of popular content isn’t WeChat exclusive. Across numerous sites and platforms, organic growth is being de-emphasized in favor of pay-to-win mechanics. Going viral on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter is substantially harder than it used to be. While this is generally good for the companies that operate these platforms because they can guide the kind of content that becomes popular and further drive ad revenue, newcomers are finding that the resources needed to gain a sizable foothold online are much substantial than ever before.

Unfortunately, this trend is not likely to be reversed. In short, it’s now more important than ever for DMOs to make sure that if they aren’t already on WeChat or other major Chinese social media platforms like Weibo, they should do so now. Moreover, enlisting the helping of marketing professionals with knowledge on how to succeed on the platform may be mandatory, not simply an edge.

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Travel Tech & Social Media