Social commerce refers to the integration of social media and e-commerce, which is a growing trend in China. Alibaba, with their popular e-commerce live-streaming platforms Taobao Live, Tmall Live, and recent investment in popular cross-border commerce platform Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu), is at the forefront of social commerce. And now it appears that Alibaba’s newest focus is to improve and expand Taobao and Tmall’s own built-in social commerce platform Weitao (微淘) starting with KOLs.
What is Weitao?
Weitao is Taobao and Tmall’s built-in social media platform. It lets KOLs and brands post product-related content, build an audience, and engage with platform users. Consumers use Weitao to discover and research brands and products via educational and entertaining content.
Weitao’s social commerce ecosystem is very similar to Little Red Book. The main difference: Content on Weitao directs users to products sold either on Taobao or Tmall while Little Red Book links to its own e-commerce ecosystem.
Taobao merchants, brands, Weitao KOLs, and regular users can share content on Weitao to accumulate followers, drive traffic, and make sales. However, regular users too can post about products and receive commissions for items they sell, a lot like an affiliate marketing model. They can also collaborate with store owners and brands, who will pay them to post about their products.
Many of these regular users have grown large followings on the platform and are considered to be Weitao KOLs. While some may have followings on other platforms as well, many of them specifically focus on growing their audience in the Alibaba ecosystem, i.e. on Weitao and Taobao Live.
What Will Happen to Weitao this Year?
Though Weitao has received very little attention from Western media, it is not new. The platform launched in early 2013 and, as of early 2017, Alibaba claimed it had over 2 million official accounts.
However, 2013 may have been too early for Weitao – as it never really took off.
Because of that, Alibaba has done little to promote Weitao, letting it grow organically and focusing on other ventures. From late 2015 into early 2017, Alibaba homed in on the live-streaming trend, putting their efforts into growing the now extremely popular platforms Taobao Live and Tmall Live.
Now, with the success of Taobao/Tmall Live and the growth of the social commerce, the market is finally ripe for Weitao.
Previously, many Taobao merchants used social media platform Weibo to direct traffic to their stores, however, many are finding that this method doesn’t work the way it used to. Over the past year, as Weibo’s organic reach has dramatically decreased and the platform has become costlier, many merchants have already begun focusing on creating content for Weitao instead and are reaping the benefits.
Another reason merchants and KOLs are starting to use Weitao is that Alibaba has made it easier for consumers to discover new content, and Weitao’s appearance has already gone through several updates this year. Those include the introduction of several industry-specific content channels like cosmetics, food, fashion, and electronics.
At a Taobao conference late last year, a company representative said that in 2018 Taobao’s content priority would be on PGC and UGC short videos, as well as the general promotion of high-quality Taobao KOL content.
In fact, this push already started last year. Alibaba claims that in 2017, as part of their “Taobao KOL Plan”, they cultivated 1,000 KOLs across all their platforms. But that was just the beginning. For the 2018 plan, Alibaba says it will develop 1,000 KOLs who are able to earn an annual income of 1 million RMB, as well as begin incubating 5,000 more. Furthermore, sources say Alibaba is making a concentrated effort to develop Weitao KOLs by pulling talent from other platforms, even offering them compensation to start producing content on Weitao.
How to Access Weitao?
Weitao is built into the Taobao mobile app and can be accessed from the app’s main page. When users open the Taobao app, they will see the Weitao icon on the bar at the bottom of the screen. Clicking the icon will take them to the Weitao home page. The home page content feed displays content from stores and KOLs they follow. On the top, they can click through to discover posts in a variety of categories.
Left: Weitao content accessible on Taobao homepage. Right: Weitao homepage
Users can also access a specific brand’s Weitao content through the brand’s Taobao or Tmall storefront. The icon is located on the upper right side.
Weitao social content on brand’s Taobao or Tmall storefront
3 Types of Weitao Accounts
There are three types of Weitao accounts: Weitao da ren (which, essentially, means “Weitao KOL”), Taobao merchant, and brand.
Weitao account types
While merchant and brand accounts are pretty self-explanatory, Weitao da ren accounts are a bit more complex. There are many sub-categories and types of da ren accounts, which all have different verification requirements.
KOLs and “wemedia” who already have followings on other platforms, or content creators who are invited to join Weitao, are able to open accounts that automatically have a higher level. Those also receive preferential treatment compared with Weitao da ren accounts opened by regular users.
Different types of personal Weitao accounts
Weitao Content Formats
Weitao users can post many types of content, from basic photo posts similar to those on Little Red Book, to WeChat-like long-form articles and short videos. Taobao Live live-streams are also integrated with a user’s Weitao account. For articles and photo posts, Weitao provides a number of templates.
Weitao social content templates
Weitao posts can, and should, link to products sold on Taobao and Tmall. All products linked in the post content can also be found in a products tab located on the right on the page.
Left: Weitao KOL post w/ product link. Center: Weitao article w/ products tab. Right: All available products.
Weitao Social Commerce Best Practices
Posts on Weitao should provide useful information about products. This can include product reviews, style guides, instructional videos and tutorials, and educational content.
While you want to promote a product, it should be done naturally with the purpose of providing value to the reader that will help them make an educated purchasing decision. Many merchants and da ren will share photos and vlogs of themselves using products in their daily lives or during their travels. This also helps consumers envision how the product would fit into their own lives.
Content unrelated to products will not do well on Weitao. Consumers are on Weitao with the intention to buy, not to consume purely inspirational or amusing content.
Interaction is also another important component of popular Weitao posts. Accounts can interact with users in a number of ways, from including surveys in their posts, offering coupons in exchange for comments, or holding giveaways to live-stream viewers. Interaction is not only a great way for accounts to engage followers and keep them coming back, it’s also a good way to learn about your followers and the types of content and products they like to see.
How Can Brands Use Weitao KOLs?
Brands that have Taobao or Tmall stores should create a Weitao account and begin publishing content on a regular basis. It this sense, it’s no different than any other social media platform.
Brands should also collaborate with Weitao KOLs.
The great thing about working with Weitao KOLs is that, unlike the majority of social media platforms, there are no issues with linking to products. Including links is actually recommended!
To facilitate Weitao KOL collaborations, Alibaba has also created their own KOL marketplace called AliVrenwu, where Weitao, Taobao Live, Tmall Live KOLs can create listings for various types of collaborations.
Social commerce is the future of KOL marketing in China, and Alibaba is a leader in the space. Despite the relatively slow growth and limited awareness since its launch, Weitao is now poised to take off.