This article is part of a series looking at Mini Programs in the context of cultural institutions, catch up on Part One here.
Imagine yourself a Chinese visitor at an overseas cultural destination. You’ve squeezed the visit into a packed itinerary and are hoping for a smooth and informative experience. The onsite Chinese-language resources are limited. Downloading a separate app or browsing the site’s Chinese web pages are clunky, data-sapping options. Enter the WeChat Mini Program.
Housed within WeChat, Mini Programs offer the functions of apps without the hassle of downloading one. WeChat users prefer Mini Programs over standalone apps to execute infrequently performed tasks, leading countless Chinese cultural destinations to develop them.
Overseas destinations are increasingly seeing Mini Programs as a cost-effective and visitor friendly option, with Tencent’s recent “Museums in the Cloud” initiative seeing 11 U.S. museums launch Mini Programs.
But how do users access Mini Programs and what, exactly, can they do?
Accessing Mini Programs
Discoverability is everything. There’s little point developing a Mini Program without having a strategy for visitor accessibility.
Mini Programs are most commonly accessed with a downward swipe on WeChat’s home, which reveals programs a user follows or has recently used.
But what if a visitor doesn’t already follow your institution’s WeChat Account? WeChat has incorporated a “Mini Programs Nearby” discovery feature allowing onsite visitors to easily find your Mini Program.
Mini Programs can also be found using WeChat’s ‘search’ function — accounts can submit up to 10 keywords to aid discovery.
Even still, visual prompts, such as onsite QR Codes, greatly increase the likelihood a Chinese visitor will experience a cultural institution with a Mini Program.
What can you do with a Mini Program?
Mini Programs start as a blank slate and differ drastically in style and functions offered. At one extreme, the Palace Museum offers a panoramic tour, sells souvenirs (one dedicated entirely to tea and coffee paraphernalia), and timed ticketing. At the other, Shanghai Museum offers a cataloguing of its collection —floor-by-floor — with accompanying text and audio materials. Ultimately, Mini Programs are best when addressing a limited number of specific needs.
The majority of museum’s that joined Tencent’s “Museums in the Cloud” initiative applied a similar template, one focused on providing basic information, collection highlights, and a fun photo-feature.
Similar to the “About” section on a website, the Mini Program landing page presents an institution’s history, opening hours, ticketing info, and directions.
Thumbnail images of selected works allow users to browse the collection and go deeper with individual pages offering detailed descriptions. Users can also “like” favorite works and collect on a dedicated page.
Participating museums designed customized photo-frames encouraging users to document the visit with a selfie or a photograph of their favorite work. Visitors can share with friends or post on “Moments”, WeChat’s version of “the timeline”. WeChat is, after all, a social platform.
Beyond offering Chinese visitors basic information, Mini Programs can also provide cultural destinations with more complex tools greatly boosting engagement and revenue potential.
Rather than simply offering detailed descriptions of collection highlights, audio and video material can be embedded into Mini Programs.
Surveys show Chinese-language maps and brochures are the most desired resources for visitors. Mini Program maps can replace paper versions with more interactive creations allowing visitors to search by criteria — Disneyland Japan, for instance, offers a map sortable by attraction, restaurant, shopping, and service facilities.
WeChat Pay is what differentiates China’s leading social media platform from most others. For cultural institutions, integrating payment functions into a Mini Program seriously helps generate revenue before, during, and after a visit. Visitors can pre-book tickets, buy lunch onsite, and purchase souvenirs all through a Mini Program.
The early days of Mini Programs were dominated by games. This legacy remains — over 30 percent of Mini Programs are categorized as “Gaming”— and is worth keeping in mind for cultural destinations. While WeChat users primarily enjoy the easy functionality of Mini Programs, they also hold entertainment value.
MoMA’s Mini Program, for example, incorporates a “match” feature similar to a dating app encouraging users to swipe right and left through its collection. Increased usage unlocks special offers such as discounts to the MoMA Design Store, downloadable screensavers, and postcards (yes, the old-fashioned kind!)
In the following articles, we’ll speak to leading China-focused agencies and museum professionals to outline the first steps towards building a Mini Program. Stay tuned.
Words by Richard Whiddington. Edited by Peter Huang.