Released in 2011, WeChat now has over 980 million active monthly users and is one of the largest standalone apps in existence. Its Chinese name means “micro-message,” but users across China and Bhutan are engaging with the app to do much more than text and chat. The broad functionality and increasing popularity of WeChat make it a viable platform for individuals and businesses to reach wider audiences by using different types of accounts to deliver marketing messages.
Why should you be paying attention to WeChat? Often called a “super-app,” this messaging platform is available for Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Symbian and Java, making it highly accessible to users in China and around the world. In fact, of the 1.1 billion WeChat accounts, 70 million of them belong to people outside the country.
Users connect in a variety of ways:
- Text messaging
- One-on-one or one-to-many voice chat
- Video conferencing
- Photo and video sharing
- Location sharing
In addition, information is shared through a “Moments” feed similar to other social media streams. Updates from individuals and businesses appear in this feed, and WeChat can be linked to Facebook and Twitter to share across platforms.
Over 580,000 “mini-programs” expand the functionality of WeChat to include music, e-commerce stores, translations, group photo albums, coupons and more. If you run a business, e-commerce options can help you reach the 83 percent of WeChat users who regularly shop online. Doctors, airlines and transportation companies can benefit from the City Services feature, a location-based option designed to allow WeChat users to book appointments and other services without leaving the app.
Which Account is Right for You?
Businesses wishing to leverage the power of WeChat have three types of accounts to choose from:
Called “official” accounts, the accounts used by companies function in a way similar to Facebook Pages to draw followers, send notifications and encourage click-throughs. Each account has its own rules for use and is tailored to different forms of marketing.
Subscription accounts allow you to send one message to followers and post one to six articles per day. Instead of sending push notifications, messages appear in a dedicated folder. Subscription accounts have no access to e-commerce or geolocation services, but they’re well-suited to companies focusing their efforts on content marketing. Use this type of account if your goals are to connect with more customers, increase brand visibility and establish a reputation as an industry thought leader.
E-commerce businesses desiring access to WeChat Stores and WeChat Pay need to register for a service account. In an effort to minimize spam, service users are limited to four messages per month with one to six articles associated with each post and push notifications alerting followers to new content. Accounts also provide access to APIs allowing businesses to build in extra functionality, including GPS to point customers to brick-and-mortar stores.
Also called enterprise accounts, this WeChat option helps you maintain organized internal communication so that you can carry out marketing plans, streamline collaboration and improve efficiency. Any employee with an email address from the company can use a corporate account, and managers have access to third-party APIs to support a range of executive-level duties.
Creating a WeChat Account for Your Business
You have three options for setting up a WeChat account:
- Use a Chinese business license
- Use an overseas business license
- Register through via third party (not recommended)
Companies registered in China have the easiest access to WeChat. You simply need to have a Chinese business license and provide the Chinese ID number of a citizen with a WeChat Payment account. WeChat also requires basic bank account information for your business to process the initial verification fee of 300 RMB.
Currently, the only way to open an official account for foreign businesses is either directly with Tencent, or via a partner like Cross Border Digital. At the time of writing Tencent themselves have a policy of assessing such requests on a case by case basis and if you can open an account it will typically take 2-3 months and will require you also spend c.$10,000USD on an advertising campaign. Using a partner like CBD the cost can be reduced to about $7,500NZD and we can get it set up in a matter of weeks.
There is a third option, but this isn’t something we recommend. Official accounts held by Chinese companies can set up to 50 sub-accounts under their business account. This is a feature Tencent added for large businesses with multiple brands, but it has been picked up by agencies who offer to use this feature to create accounts for foreign businesses and just charge them a recurring maintenance fee, usually around $500/year. This is tempting, but it is a bit of a hack and we think it is too risky for any serious brand. If at some point the authorities decide they don’t like all the unofficial company accounts created in this way they could easily, and unceremoniously, be removed with no recourse for the loss of content and effort put into building the channel. In our opinion any serious brand should only invest in creating an official account through official channels.
If you want to bring your products and services to a wider audience across China and beyond, it may be time to invest in WeChat. Choose the right account for your advertising needs, and start putting your brand in front of the growing audience of consumers engaging with the app every day.