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Posted by on Feb 6, 2018 in Digital Industry News, Social Media, Travel Industry News | 0 comments

Keep Up with the WeChat Mini Program

Fiona Qi
Fiona Qi

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For a lot of people, WeChat is no longer a new term. Since launching in 2011, WeChat has quickly become the most popular application in China, with close to 1000 million monthly active users. Because of its large number of monthly active users, high opening frequency and average time people spend on it, more and more business owners are adopting WeChat as part of their digital strategy. For these reasons, it’s not surprising that WeChat Mini Program gained a lot of attention even before it officially launched.

So what exactly is WeChat Mini Program?

Mini Program, which was announced in 2017, is a new concept that links users with services. The update now allows WeChat users to access “Mini Programs,” which are similar to native apps, within the WeChat app. Zhang Xiaolong, the “Father of WeChat,” described 4 features of Mini Program, which are “No need to install,” ‘’Handy,” “Free to leave after use” and ‘’No need to delete.”

One of the advantages Mini Program has over native apps is that there is “no need to install,” so users won’t need to download a lot of different apps to fit various needs. This is a critical difference from the way Apple’s app store functions, and is important for businesses who have a hard time getting consumers to download their apps, and with app retention. In fact, Localytics found that 1 in 4 apps downloaded are abandoned after just one session. So, can the ease of Mini Programs take the place of the native app completely? To answer this question, we need to know first what can be done with Mini Program.

Below are functions announced when Mini Program just launched on January 2017:

  • Enable sharing of Mini Program Page: in case of Mini Programs with multiple pages, users can share the current page they viewed and receivers can be directed to this specific page.
  •  Shareable: users can share Mini Program to their conversations with one friend or to WeChat groups.
  • Searchable: Mini Program can be searched within WeChat.
  • Link with official account: account holders can link Mini Program with official account.
  •  Offline QR code: users can enter Mini Program via scanning QR code.
  • Switchable: users can put Mini Program in the back end when they want to use other apps and quickly call back to the previous state when they need to use Mini Program again.
  • Message notifications: business owners can send messages to users who accepted its services before and users can contact customer service within Mini Program.
  • History list: used Mini programs will be placed into history list for next time use.

Since April 2017, WeChat started to develop more functions within Mini Program and opened more flexibility to third party platforms.

WeChat Mini Program(Image Source: Fiona Qi)

The screenshots above are message pushes from WeChat Public Platform official account, most of the notifications are about new functions of Mini Program. Some major functions opened include:

  • Mini Programs can add “forward” button on the page which users can share with friends more conveniently.
  • Official accounts can set text link or image link in articles they pushed to users and direct users to Mini Program.
  • Developers can set keywords in the back end to better reach users when they search for Mini Programs.
  • Mini Programs linked with the same official account can jump to each other.
  • Mini program now supports games.

We can see from the above trend that WeChat is obviously trying to develop Mini Program to a more and more native-app-like service and use this to build a closed WeChat ecosystem.

Why should we care about Mini Program?

Does Mini Program have anything to do with hotels or travel? The best answer might be the actions of industry players.

WeChat Mini Program Hotel Search(Image Source: Fiona Qi)

Mini Program search results page with the keyword “Hotel:”

  • Ctrip
  • HUAZHU group
  • Tongcheng
  • Qunar
  • eLong
  • Meituan Hotel
  • GreenTree Inn
  • Vienna Hotels Group
  • Plateno Trip
  • BTG HOMEINNS Hotels Group

For hoteliers, the above names explain a lot. Not only OTAs like Ctrip and eLong, but also hotel groups such as HUAZHU all launched their own Mini Programs and started to explore this new way of doing business.

HUAZHU Mini Program(Image Source: Fiona Qi)

From above screenshots of HUAZHU Mini Program, it’s not hard to notice that the homepage concept is very similar with its own app’s homepage, but is simplified and only keeps the most important features, the “Book” and “My Account” page. Through this Mini Program, users can select destination, check-in and check-out dates and view all hotels that are available.

HUAZHU Mini Program(Image Source: Fiona Qi)

After choosing a specific hotel, a rate-check page will show up with a basic hotel description and hotel images. And if you want to share this hotel with friends, this can be achieved easily by forwarding the page; your friend will be able to click and directly go to this hotel’s rate-check page rather than HUAZHU’s Mini Program homepage. This is the so called “enable sharing of Mini Program Page” concept mentioned earlier.

Enable Sharing of Mini Program Page(Image Source: Fiona Qi)

This whole process goes smoothly within WeChat system and more functions are under development. Although there are still drawbacks and challenges, Mini Program is worth trying or at least keeping close attention so no business opportunities would be missed.

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