With more than a billion daily users, WeChat is an essential tool for cultural destinations striving to connect with China. The vast majority of Chinese cultural institutions are already well-established on WeChat, but there remains huge potential for western institutions to utilize the platform to engage Chinese audiences. Jing Travel examines how cultural institutions performed on WeChat across March and looks behind the numbers by giving insight on successful strategies.
Western Museums and Cultural Institutions
As coronavirus shifted from a regional epidemic to a worldwide pandemic in March, global museums and cultural institutions found themselves shuttered and facing similar challenges to those encountered by their Chinese counterparts since January. As they create content and test new engagement modes for local audiences, it offers an opportunity to pivot and translate such efforts for Chinese audiences.
With the cessation of travel and ensuing closure of institutions, developing a content plan for WeChat is more essential than ever. While posts on WeChat official accounts may not support the VR and live stream tours that Chinese institutions have embraced in recent months, Centre Pompidou is rolling out a text-and-image museum tour. Framed as “Mini Online Art Classes”, the posts are playful and succinct, promising information that can’t be found through a regular internet trawl and focusing on five artists at a time. March’s edition brought readers to floors four and five of the iconic inside-out building. The post provided background and analysis on Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Fernand Léger, Louise Bourgeois, and Jean Dubuffet. To learn more, browsers can scan the QR Code at the bottom of the article and enter Pompidou’s Mini Program.
Across March, 50 percent of the most read WeChat posts from cultural institutions were status updates, often in letter form. For western museums, posts announced forced closures, while in China posts outlined potential reopenings and adopted health measures. Although this trend is unsurprising given the relative situations of China and the rest of the world, it serves as a reminder that WeChat users see the platform as an important source of news and not merely a social or entertainment app. In the coming months, museums must use WeChat to communicate status updates — describing institutional hygiene measures will be essential once reopenings begin. Louvre’s March 14th post on its closure is a strong example. Short and clearly worded, the post explains its closure, outlines the status of current and future exhibitions, tells users how to claim refunds, and offers recommended reading.
Chinese Museums and Cultural Institutions
Coronavirus has radically transformed the way Chinese museums and cultural institutions engage local audiences. March saw a continued embrace of China’s social media and tech platforms — from movie series held in partnership with Tencent to a string of live streamed tours on short-video app Douyin (known internationally as TikTok), Chinese cultural destinations are innovating out of logistical and economic necessity. Strong WeChat numbers across March are, in part, a reflection of such efforts.
MoCA Shanghai hosted the third installment of its annual “Fashion Academy” seminar series between March 15 and 23. Owing to coronavirus, MoCA converted its conversations and panel sessions of the public education program to WeChat articles. This year’s seminar explored sustainable fashion through five episodes and included input from fashion curator Pooky Lee, sustainable brand Allbirds and independent designer label PCYCL, as well as fashion media personality Shaway Yeh. While a text-heavy WeChat post may not compensate for live events, the initiative showed a willingness to connect with audiences through an unpreceded situation.
Having held a well-received virtual concert series on Kuaishou in February, UCCA launched its “Cinema Online” program in March. Collaboration, a frequent feature of Chinese cultural engagements during coronavirus was once again on display with UCCA working with major online streaming platforms such as Youku and Tencent, as well as media companies like Hugoeast and Folding Universe. UCCA held two screening series, one exploring female movies and the other focused on science fiction films. Beyond streaming films to audiences nationwide, UCCA invited film critics and directors to share their perspectives in after-show discussions. The initiative succeeded in attracting more than 260,000 viewers.
WeChat Index Content by Richard Whiddington and Wenzhuo Wu