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The “WeChat Store” people always refer are just standard eCommerce web pages that can be opened in WeChat’s internal browser. Due to the close nature of WeChat’s ecosystem, every link, page, product page, or content opened in WeChat will open within WeChat’s build browser. Available for all kinds of platforms; enjoy group chat; support voice,photo,video and text messages.

WeChat is the center of digital marketing in China. It has more than 500 million users, of which more than 50 percent open its app 10 times a day.

Wechat Official Page

WeChat solutions can be hosted on the Web Apps feature of Microsoft Azure App Service. The ability to scale out and scale up makes Azure App Service ideal for WeChat live-campaign scenarios.

Microsoft teamed up with Senparc, a development partner of WeChat, to migrate the Senparc digital-marketing management system to Azure. Its back end is hosted on Web Apps and powered by Cognitive Services.

Customer profile

Senparc is a WeChat development company located in Suzhou, China. Its main businesses include architecture, development and implementation for e-commerce, and digital marketing for the WeChat app. Its customers include Fortune 500 companies such as General Electric, United Parcel Service, China Unicom, China Telecom, Tencent, and Unilever and many local government departments.

One of the main products that Senparc offers for WeChat is the Senparc.Weixin SDK, which is shared on GitHub (JeffreySu/WeiXinMPSDK). This project is the most popular C# project on GitHub in China, with 1690 stars at the time this case study was published and 1691 forks. It’s also the most famous C# SDK for WeChat development.

Problem statement

Business pain points

Web

WeChat is the most widely used app in China, and many companies use WeChat as a marketing channel. However, the WeChat back-end management system is not particularly user-friendly, especially its marketing aspect: monitoring followers’ status, generating live campaign activity rules, creating campaign games, and so on. Customers often need to develop their own management systems, which increases their costs and preparation time.

Senparc wanted to publish a system that can manage the WeChat back end, monitor users’ status, enable DIY game flow, and manage the release of multiple new games simultaneously and with more interaction. With such a system, customers could easily manage their WeChat accounts and set up WeChat live campaigns.

Technical pain points

Both the WeChat account back end and management client are websites. The marketing WeChat account has high concurrent requests during live campaigns. Senparc needed a convenient method to auto-scale instances and configure load balancing. Doing so would help Senparc decrease IT costs and focus more on development. Web Apps is ideal for this scenario and also enables Senparc to easily manage the hosting environments of websites, perform remote debugging, and quickly connect to SQL databases and Redis Cache.

Senparc also wanted to integrate some intelligent games into this management system by using Cognitive Services.

Solution, steps, and delivery

Solution delivery

Wechat Web For Window

Senparc and Microsoft worked together to deliver an end-to-end marketing-management solution for WeChat, including a WeChat front end, a management portal, and an auto-deployment template for Azure Resource Manager.

  • The WeChat app includes some sample HTML5 game pages to provide front-end experiences for users.
  • The WeChat management portal is used by WeChat operators to track WeChat followers, monitor the running status of games, and generate the parameters of intelligent campaign games that are shown by WeChat web pages, based on Cognitive Services.
  • The auto-deployment template includes a Resource Manager template and its deployment project. We can use the deployment project to call the template and then create instances of App Service, SQL Database, and Redis Cache and deploy the code package in any Azure subscription.

WeChat front-end HTML5 game

WeChat mangement portal user-monitor page

WeChat mangement portal game-creation page

Technical Architecture

This solution leverages Web Apps, SQL Database, Redis Cache, and Cognitive Services.

  • The WeChat HTML5 game pages are hosted on Web Apps; emotion competition and photo-comparision features are implemented by Cognitive Services.
  • The WeChat management portal is hosted on Web Apps.
  • The WeChat authorization token and temporary data are stored in Redis Cache.
  • User data are stored in SQL Database.

Activities

Microsoft hosted two hackfests with Senparc. The first was at Senparc headquarters in Suzhou to train Senparc personnel on Azure fundamentals. For the second hackfest, Microsoft invited Senparc to their Beijing West office, where Microsoft technical evangelists helped Senparc migrate their solution to Azure.

Hackfest photos

Technical implementation

After several months of work, we delivered the finished code, consisting of the WeChat management portal and game pages based on .NET and the WeChat API.

Management portal code

All code is hosted on Web Apps with some advanced features being used.

  1. The autoscale feature handles high volumes of concurrent requests when WeChat compaign activities are hosted. This decreases IT operation efforts compared with using local servers.
  2. We discovered that WeChat sometimes blocks the Azure domain name. To solve this issue, we use Web Apps to bind custom domain names.
  3. The SSL feature enables WeChat Pay in the solution. (WeChat Pay is a payment method in WeChat.)
    • Upload the .pfx format WeChat Pay certificate to the Web Apps SSL certificate function.
    • Add the certificate thumbprint to the app settings to help the code find the uploaded certificate.
    • Modify the code as follows to locate the certificate by thumbprint.

Web Apps feature of Azure App Service

Redis Cache and SQL Database serve as data storage.

Azure Redis Cache

Azure SQL Database

The auto-deployment template helps Senparc quickly set up the Azure environment. Part of the JSON file is as follows:

The deployment function is integrated into the Senparc web server. An IT pro can set up the environment and deploy the code by signing in with an Azure account, powered by Azure Active Directory. Part of the .NET code is as follows:

Conclusion

As a result of this project, Senparc positioned this WeChat digital-marketing solution as a software as a service (SaaS) product. The solution is entirely hosted on Microsoft Azure. The auto-scale capability of Web Apps handles the high volumes of concurrent requests, and Cognitive Services enables greater creativity in the social games.

A Senparc customer, the Suzhou broadcasting station, adopted this solution for their traffic channel, providing WeChat interactive activities as part of their traffic-rules education program.

Wechat

Special thanks to the Senparc team, the Microsoft China DX Technical Evangelist team, and the Microsoft Audience Evangelism team. The project team included the following participants:

  • Zhenwei Su – CEO, Senparc
  • Yunkun Fu – Developer, Senparc
  • Ellen Jin – UI Designer, Senparc
  • Malgosia Mazany – DX Audience Evangelism Manager, Microsoft
  • Yan Zhang – Audience Evangelism Manager, Microsoft China
  • Rita Zhang – DX Technical Evangelist, Microsoft
  • Bhargav Nookala – DX Technical Evangelist, Microsoft
  • Haishi Bai – DX Technical Evangelist, Microsoft
  • Qixiao Wang – DX Technical Evangelist, Microsoft China
  • Shijun Liu – DX Technical Evangelist, Microsoft China
  • David Yan – DX Technical Evangelist, Microsoft China

Abstract

Purpose

WeChat is the largest acquaintance social networking platform in China, in which users can view and reshare web pages shared by friends. This paper aims to analyze the spatio-temporal dynamics of web pages diffused in WeChat and advice on commercials.

Design/methodology/approach

A large number of web pages diffused in WeChat are collected and exclusively divided into four categories according to their titles, including advertisements, news bulletins, holiday greetings and emotional essays. For each web page, an information cascade (tree structure) is constructed to describe the diffusion trace. Based on the categories, the spatio-temporal popularity is characterized; the topological, temporal and spatial properties are examined; and the spatio-temporal diffusion velocity is explored.

Findings

Wechat For Web Page Login

Through comparative analysis, different categories of pages show diversity. For spatio-temporal popularity, there is no significant difference in cascade size; holiday greetings usually last for a relatively short time on average; emotional essays are more likely to spread to more provinces. For topological, temporal and spatial characteristics, the diffusion process of advertisements is more likely to be broadcasting than other categories; news bulletins and holiday greetings have an obvious bursty; the number of viewing behavior decreases from east to west in general. For spatio-temporal diffusion velocity, emotional essays diffuse the fastest in topological and spatio-temporal dimensions.

Originality/value

These findings contribute to promoting products and providing support for data driven modeling of information diffusion and human activity in spatio-temporal dimensions.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Competing interests: The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

This study is supported by National Key Research & Development (R&D) Plan under Grant No. 2017YFC0803300 and the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant Nos. 71673292, 61503402 and Guangdong Key Laboratory for Big Data Analysis and Simulation of Public Opinion.

Citation

Liu, L., Chen, B., Jiang, W., He, L. and Qiu, X. (2017), 'Spatio-temporal dynamics of web pages diffused in WeChat', Information Discovery and Delivery, Vol. 45 No. 3, pp. 139-148. https://doi.org/10.1108/IDD-05-2017-0044

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Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited