What is WeChat
Put simply, WeChat is like combining Venmo, Facebook, Whatsapp, Google News, Tinder, and Pinterest into one app.
With this many functions it’s no surprise it’s nearly taken over China completely. This is no joke. WeChat is spreading at rocket speed in China. With 626.1 million users logging into WeChat every day and using various functions for daily tasks. It’s also the main form of communication in China for both business and personal conversations. You can book a taxi, pay your friends, listen to music, read breaking news, and call your mother all from within this one app.
As of May 2019, the number of monthly active users for Wechat and Wechat was clocked at 1.112 billion. With 800 million mobile internet users, even if you include overseas users WeChat is obviously nearing a 100% user penetration rate in China.
While you’d think this platform is only effective for marketing within China, you also have to consider the massive amount of people of Chinese descent around the world. Whether 1st generation or 5th generation, people of Chinese descent around the world also use WeChat to communicate with relatives and read content in their native language.
WeChat is taking over China in both social and commercial aspects. While many call it the the Chinese Facebook, there are a range of platforms which compete for that title. While it might not be the Facebook of China feature-wise it has grown into the largest and the most influential social network & messaging platform in China. So how can you use WeChat for business?
Which WeChat Official Account fits you best?
WeChat is an essential and outstanding marketing tool for business to enter the Chinese market. Setting up a WeChat official account allows brands to reach out a huge audience and raise brand awareness in an effective way. However, setting up a WeChat official account isn’t as easy as you might expect.
In this blog we will be covering the traditional 3 accounts. Service Accounts, Subscription Accounts, and WeChat Work (otherwise known as an enterprise account.) For more info on mini programs read here!
WeChat Official accounts are available to media, government organizations, invididuals/celebrities, and businesses. Let’s take look at the three types of WeChat official accounts: subscription accounts, service accounts, and enterprise accounts.
WeChat Mini-Programs are essentially apps that live within the WeChat ecosystem, and are different from the other types of WeChat Official Accounts. If this is your first foray into the China market this probably isn’t the right tool for you (but could certainly be worth it once you’ve got your business established). If you’re interested in Mini-Programs check out our blog about them below.
1. Subscription Accounts (订阅号)
WeChat subscription accounts focus on information and brand communication. They are used much like a daily news feed. They can publish once a day to subscribers and publish1-6 articles each time. All updates are sent to the users’ subscription folder with no push notifications.
Wondering why they limit these accounts to posting only once a day? WeChat search places a high priority on the time that an article is posted. This allows the most recent articles to receive priority. Limiting the number of posts is to prevent accounts from posting incessantly to maintain their position at the top of the WeChat search engine.
Subscription accounts are the only type of WeChat official account that is open to individuals, such as bloggers and celebrities, as the others require a company business license. This type of WeChat official account is most suited to individuals and brands that are content based or information-oriented, such as media publications.
While these accounts can publish more and theoretically bring more users to your account, you have to remember that these accounts are nested in the subscription folder in a user’s contacts, drastically reducing visibility. If you’re looking for a WeChat official account with more visibility read on to the next section.
2. Service Accounts (服务号)
WeChat service accounts offer a lot of interesting features including customer service, API integrations, e-commerce, and CRM. These WeChat Official Accounts offer more robust functionality as compared to subscription accounts. Verified service accounts can also register for WeChat Pay and set up a WeChat Store. After verification, service accounts have access to 9 advanced APIs that enable the brands to create additional apps and functions such as Instant Customer Service, GPS, Payments, etc.
Service accounts can publish up to 4 times per month, with 1-6 articles each time. When the posts are published, the updates appear as push notifications in followers’ chat lists. Compared to subscription accounts, the posting frequency of service accounts is lower, but the visibility is higher due to push notifications.
Again these accounts are limited in how much they can post as they are the only accounts capable of generating push notifications. If WeChat official accounts were able to spam users with push notifications it would detract from the overall user experience on WeChat. Tencent’s main goal is to keep users on WeChat for as long as possible, so this would be something Tencent definitely does not want.
Service accounts are the best choice for businesses with a large audience or with large customer databases, such as airlines and hotels. For hotels and airlines, in particular booking systems can even be built within the app. They’re also used for customer service, as users can message the account directly with questions or complaints similar to other live chat software used by businesses around the world.
Another reason these accounts are so popular with businesses is the fact that they provide a larger amount of data. You can view data on who scanned which QR code, if users viewed your HTML5 Pages, or whether or not users shared a given piece of content. For companies that operate their WeChat official account as a website this can be crucial to setting up your marketing funnel.
3. Enterprise Accounts (企业号)
While subscription accounts and service accounts target external markets, WeChat enterprise accounts are primarily for internal communication and management. This makes this type of WeChat official account similar to what many businesses use Slack and Workplace by Facebook for.
They are not available to the public nor marketers. Users of corporate accounts must be verified internal staff in order to follow the corporate account.
With third-party APIs, corporate accounts have multiple internal management functions, such as internal chat rooms, video conferencing, and resource sharing. These accounts offer functionality similar to other workplace chat apps like Slack and Workplace by Facebook. Corporate accounts have high visibility and high security as users have to follow the account and then be added manually by the account owner entering their name, phone number and WeChat ID.
As of December 2017, 1.5 million businesses in China were using WeChat enterprise accounts, with 30 million users subscribed to these accounts.
How to set up a WeChat Official Account?
To register a WeChat official account for most businesses in China, you will need the following:
- Chinese Business License obtained by a local company or WFOE (Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise)
- Chinese ID of a Chinese National with a WeChat payment account
There are 3 options available for overseas companies looking to register a WeChat Official Account
Option 1: Register a company in China
After setting up the company, you’ll have the business license required to register an official account. However, this approach is not recommended as it take a huge amount of time and money to set up a company in China.
Option 2: Use a third-party business license
You can use the business license from another Chinese legal entity to register an account for your company. Each Chinese company can register up to 5 WeChat Official Accounts, so companies with extra slots on their business license are often willing to sell them for extra cash. The price they charge can range from a couple hundred USD into the thousands.
This method does have its risks. Ultimately, the account is tied to the company that provides you with the service, so choosing a reliable provider is absolutely essential. Imagine purchasing an account for a few hundred dollars, investing in promoting the account, only to have it shut down or held ransom by an unreliable partner.
Although the account will be attached to the Chinese legal entity, you can still decide on the details of your account, such as name, logo, and description. The name of the account sponsor would only be found on the information page of the account.
WeChat also allows people to transfer official accounts now, which means you can transfer your account from a third party business to your own company later (if you eventually decide to open a company in China).
Option 3: Use your own international business license
Head to the WeChat Official Accounts Platform to get started applying with your own documents.
WeChat faces a lot of scrutiny from the Chinese government as it controls a huge amount of user data and can easily shape public opinion through its platform. This means they must be incredibly careful with what types of people or companies can register accounts and publish content on the platform. This unique situation has led Tencent to be very strict in its approval of international companies without a Chinese business license.
As of May 3rd, 2018, WeChat has begun accepting applications from all foreign countries. However, these applications are processed on a case-by-case basis, so, unfortunately, it’s not a certainty you’ll be able to obtain an account with your own business license. There are also several key differences in terms of functionality between accounts registered using a Chinese business license and those registered with an overseas business license. You can see more about these differences in the table below.
The process is quite complicated. As an example of what’s required, this is what must be provided by a Hong Kong registered company:
List of Documents Required for HK Company WeChat Official Account Registration– Certificate of Incorporation– Business Registration Certificate– Annual Report (If Available)– ID Card of Intended WeChat Operator/Admin (This should be someone who will be with the company long-term)– Business Bank Account Number– Letter from Bank– Proof of Business Operation (Photos of the Shop/Screenshots of the Website)– Company water bill or electricity bill or bank letter to prove the BR address– Recent 3-month mobile phone bill of WeChat operator (The same person who provided the ID)– Company shareholder information (this is to comply with the national KYC practice for anti- money-laundering)
Number WeChat Official Accounts Per Business License Reduced from 50 to 5
As of early 2018, The WeChat admin team announced the maximum number of WeChat official accounts able to be registered by an individual had been reduced from 5 to 2. For companies and organizations, the number of WeChat official accounts per business license has also been reduced from 50 to 5.
10 Ways to Get Your WeChat Official Account Off The Ground
With approximately 1.112 billion monthly active users, WeChat is a powerful marketing tool in China. WeChat marketing offers a powerful way to connect with customers, build a database and collect feedback. If your company plans on doing any business in China at all a WeChat official account is an absolute must!
However, WeChat isn’t the be all and end all of marketing in China. As a relatively closed social media platform, follower acquisition is tough! Content created on the platform is distributed only to followers and there are no options to boost posts outside of your user base. Many speculate that nearly 90% of the views on WeChat are only about 10% of the accounts on the platform.
Promotion is key, as organic content can’t travel far on its own unless it goes viral. We can’t imagine anything worse than going through all the trouble of getting a WeChat Official Account to then fall flat on your face when it comes to using it! You’ll need a well thought out WeChat marketing strategy to make the most of your WeChat Official Account.
Check out the strategies below for some ideas!
1.Drive Users to Your WeChat Official Account with QR codes
WeChat automatically creates a QR code for each WeChat official account, and the app itself has a built-in QR code scanner. You can also customize the QR codes to match your branding. These codes can be posted in all of your marketing channels, such as on other social media networks (not Weibo you might get penalized), product packaging, brochures, or even in your brick-and-mortar stores.
An Awesome example of QR Code Branding & Design by Yimu Kangdao, a rice company in China!
QR codes are a great way to entice customers as they allow you to offer discounts, promotions or free WiFi access. With just a simple scan, you can boost both sales and followers on your WeChat official account. QR codes can also be useful for targeting. WeChat Official Accounts allow you to tag users who scan different QR codes and push content based on these tags. This allows for greater personalization and more advanced segmentation. Unfortunately, this is only available for Service accounts.
The discount chain store EMart in Korea built a huge 3-D sculpture, showing a hidden QR code. With a quick scan of the code, it brought users to EMart’s WeChat official account, increasing sales and followers.
Emart’s 3D Sculpture of a QR Code in South Korea
WeChat pay is similarly based completely around QR codes. Businesses hoping to accept WeChat pay will need to get very familiar with QR codes very fast. As we all know phones can both generate and scan QR codes allowing users to receive and make payments with just their phone alone.
2. WeChat Content: Create Valuable, Emotionally Appealing, and Useful Content
Creating high-quality content on WeChat is absolutely essential and one of the most important parts of successfully maintaining a WeChat Official Account. Content should be informative, useful, and of consistent quality to maintain your base and attract new followers. According to recent research, 49% of the WeChat users would share an article on WeChat if they believe it’s useful.
People can get bored easily and you need to create content that is interesting and educational in order to stand out and draw traffic. Content on WeChat Official Accounts should generally align with the following rules:
- Make sure that your content evokes positive emotions;
- Create interesting and entertaining visual content (gifs, stickers, infographics)
- Make your content unusual, unique, and useful
- Choose headlines that envoke curiosity, awe, emotion
- Create “how-to” type content that specifically answers the most frequently asked questions and provides solutions to the problems of your target customers
Research shows that video is also booming on social networks. GIFs and videos are compelling visuals that can support your storytelling, especially for industries like fashion and beauty, food and beverage. Short video, in particular, has become incredibly popular which can be seen with the rise of platforms like Douyin/TikTok and Kuaishou. WeChat even launched its own short video/live streaming feature early this year which is still in its testing phase. To read more about these competitors to WeChat check out our blog on the Top 10 Social Media Sites in China.
in 2018, short videos have only become more popular!
Coming up with new content on a regular basis can be incredibly difficult and if you outsource it, downright expensive. WeChat’s closed system makes it incredibly frustrating as well, as you could create the best piece of content in the world and watch it get little to no traction on the platform. WeChat introduced a search feature in 2018, that many brands have hope to make use of to improve the velocity of their content.
The search function on WeChat is still relatively new, so extensive research and testing has yet to yield any concrete strategies for dominating WeChat search. If it’s like any other search engine, keyword optimization could help drive traffic to relevant articles. This is something to consider in the content creation process and in your overall WeChat marketing strategy.
The “Wow” of WeChat
WeChat recently underwent a massive update in January 2019. Some of the biggest changes were a redesign of the overall look of the app and the addition of a “time capsule” feature similar to Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook’s stories feature.
A lesser-known addition was the “Wow” feature. When reading articles posted by subscription accounts if users click on the like button, the article will be shown to all the user’s contacts under the “Wow” tab under WeChat’s “Top Stories” section. This drastically increases the importance of likes in terms of content as it gives the content another opportunity for it to spread organically. This makes likes a much larger factor and striving to achieve likes should be a part of every brand’s WeChat marketing strategy.
Scheduling Posts to go out at the right time
Since WeChat Official Accounts are very limited in the amount that they are allowed to post, you should make sure that each post goes out at the right time for the maximum effect. Most articles tend to go out during business hours in China, making it one of the most competitive times to post an article.
When posting an article on WeChat there are two things you should consider on the timing of your article.
1. Picture your target user. When do you think they’d be reading on WeChat? Commuting time, After work, or maybe even Sunday morning?
2. Look for times when readership numbers are up and competition is low. This prevents your article from getting drowned out while still getting a good amount of views.
Be sure to keep these in mind when formulating your WeChat marketing strategy.
3. Utilize WeChat’s Location-based Marketing Features
WeChat can detect user location, enabling brands to target potential customers nearby. This function also comes along with the features like “Shake”, “Look Around” and “Drift Bottle”. This feature covers more than 300 cities and 2,500 counties nationwide.
Leveraging your WeChat followers’ location information can be beneficial for online and offline businesses. These features are where the “Tinder-esque” features come into play. WeChat is often used by singles who use the app to look for people nearby. Be careful when you turn this function on!
DiDiDaChe is a taxi hailing plus personal transport app, similar to Uber. It uses WeChat to access the user location while the user can track the driver’s distance from the pickup address. WeChat mini-programs also use geographical data that users can find when they are nearby.
How WeChat integrates with Didi for payment and location tracking
4. Use WeChat HTML5 Campaigns to Shock, Awe and Engage
HTML5 (H5) Campaigns are a great way to encourage customer engagement. WeChat Official Accounts are capable of hosting pages built with HTML5 to create unique and creative campaigns. Brands can launch H5 campaigns with a variety of creative features, such as voting, games, quizzes, and more! To motivate your audience and encourage participation, it’s good to provide attractive incentives, such as discounts and gifts to go along with the campaign. There are tons of tools out there to create simple H5 applications if you know where to look so don’t think this is something only big brands can use.
Companies like Rabbitpre.com offer a wide range of templates, tools, and plugins that allow you to access some of WeChats more advanced features with ease. a
However, remember that since WeChat is a closed platform so to promote the campaign you’ll need to encourage sharing, work with KOLs, or invest in WeChat advertising to truly take advantage of the campaign.
Coach, for instance, ran a campaign called “#MyFirstCoach” in 2015 to celebrate Mother’s Day. WeChat users, who uploaded a photo of themselves and their mothers, could have a chance to be featured on Coach’s homepage and win a Coach wristlet.
Coach’s Mother’s Day Campaign in 2015
5. Leverage KOLs to Succeed with WeChat For Business
WeChat KOLs (key opinion leaders) are popular accounts that already have a large number of subscribers. These can be individuals or media organizations that have operate a WeChat Official Account. Brands can search KOLs on WeChat or through marketing agencies. The cooperation model usually requires you to prepare or confirm the content with KOLs who then publish it on their WeChat Official Accounts to promote your brand.
These posts are usually sponsored by brands but the price can vary wildly depending on their number of followers or average page views. Many celebrities in China have become KOLs as an extra source of income. In recent years KOLs have become one of the primary drivers for success on WeChat for business.
In terms of WeChat promotion strategies, this is likely the most commonly used. However, as Chinese consumers have been bombarded with KOL marketing for the last few years it will likely begin to drop in effectiveness.
Becky Li is famous for helping to sell over 100 Mini Coopers in under 5 minutes with her promotions on Weibo.
KOL Research Resources:
Newrank: Ranks KOLs on WeChat (Only in Chinese)
Parklu: KOL Platform allowing users to launch campaigns directly from the platform
If you are interested in this topic, check out our blog post on Chinese KOLs here.
You can also check out our blog on the top 10 Chinese fashion and beauty influencers/KOLs (2019)
6. Use WeChat Advertising to Drive Measurable Results
WeChat advertising is an effective way to boost followers in the early stages. This form of advertising is only available to companies with a WeChat Official Account. You should create a good amount of content to ensure that you keep your followers after having them arrive on your account prior to launching an advertising campaign.
WeChat provides three advertising options for verified accounts: Moments Ads, Account Ads, and KOL Ads. For more information on WeChat ads you can check the official WeChat website here .
WeChat Moments Ads: These advertisements are shown in the users’ WeChat Moments, which is similar to the Facebook Newsfeed. The minimum budget for activating Moment Ads is $50,000 RMB (approximately $7,500 USD). This can be somewhat flexible depending on the company applying to purchase advertisements. This money can then be spent to purchase ads with a variety of targeting options. The price of the ads varies depending on the cities and target audience group.
An example of BMW’s WeChat Moments Ad.
These ads can only be purchased on a CPM (Cost-per-mille/cost per 1000 impressions), there are currently no CPC ads available in this format. The ad can include the company name, a 40 character description, a link to an HTML5 page, and either 6 pictures or 15 seconds of video.
Update-April 9 2019: WeChat added a new feature for moments ads in April 2019 that allows users to tag other users in the comment section of moments adds. This adds greater potential for moments advertisements to go viral on WeChat. For more information on this check out Technode’s post here.
WeChat Banner Ads: This is a flexible and cost-effective approach. You can target a specific target audience and these type of ads offer both CPC and CPM pricing models. Again the minimum price to activate the advertiser account and purchase these ads is RMB 50,000 (approximately USD $7,500)
The advertisement is shown at the bottom of the articles of WeChat official accounts with high subscription and view rates. As these types of ads have a CPC model, they can be a stable way to grow your WeChat presence.
With a few test campaigns under your belt you should be able to come up with a predictable return on investment from using these ads. Most companies report a cost per acquisition of RMB 8 – 20 per follower (USD $1.2 – $2.95)
7. Promote your WeChat Official Account & Content On Other Social Platforms
You have to identify which channels of internet communication your target audience uses. Where are your prospective customers most active? What platforms do they spend the most time on? These platforms don’t necessarily even need to be Chinese! Try Linkedin, Facebook, etc. to help boost your WeChat Official Account’s reach.
One of the keys to properly using a WeChat official account for business is knowing how to leverage other resources to grow your account, as using only the resources available on the platform is often not enough(unless you want to spend your way to the top). Regardless of your company size this should always be a part of your WeChat promotion strategies.
8. Start a Loyalty Program On Your WeChat Official Account
Nowadays, loyalty programs are an essential part of a comprehensive approach to forming a long-term relationship with customers. They allow you to recognize the loyalty and consistency of both individual and corporate customers. An emphasis on customers who have been purchasing your products and/or services for one or more seasons is vital to an effective loyalty program. Implementing loyalty programs can be key in successfully using WeChat for business.
In the increasingly competitive business environment in China, it has become crucial to not only please but also retain customers. Consequently, rewards programs have morphed from a nice little extra to something that is absolutely necessary.
According to Collinson Group, 72% of mainland Chinese consumers regard themselves as engaged members of loyalty programs. 72% in comparison to a global negative trend of consumer overall engagement in traditional loyalty programs! The above shows the importance of membership & loyalty strategies in the Chinese market.
Given the above, membership and loyalty programs should become one of your most important WeChat promotion strategies. If you reward your existing loyal customers for their desired behavior, you solidify their loyalty to your brand. You also keep them coming back and motivate them to recommend you to their relatives, friends, and online social circles.
These membership & loyalty programs might be supplemented by:
- Gifting VIP cards to certain customers;
- Sending exclusive promotions and the latest news to all of your followers;
- Granting your customers special coupons, including E-coupons;
- Providing your customers with the right to buy a product or a service at an everyday or seasonal discount, which will lead to an increase in your revenue;
- From time to time, rewarding your clients with all-inclusive offers and packages.
It is not necessary to have all of your customers enrolled in your loyalty programs. At times, a small cadre of clients generates more than half or more of companies’ sales.
WeChat For Business Case Study: Sephora’s Loyalty Program
The French chain of cosmetics “Sephora” created a WeChat Official Account for its loyal customers to follow. On this page, they strive to educate Chinese consumers about its beauty products and brands. On its WeChat Official Account, they offer educational tutorials, giveaways, and sales promotions, focusing on increasing the satisfaction of their clients.
Sephoras Loyalty Program is a Great Example of Using WeChat For Business
Sephora’s customers can also check the accumulated points, view their live balances, and discover the benefits and rewards they can claim. They can also update their personal information to ensure that they will are aware of all future promotions.
Sephora’s marketing strategy is an excellent example of how to use WeChat for business. Their WeChat Official Account allows customers to immerse themselves in the world of beauty and cosmetics, helping to capture more followers on the application.
9. Use the power of WeChat Micro-Sites/WeChat Mini-Programs
We haven’t finished yet! There are hundreds of tools out there for you to use that allow to create small websites for WeChat. This will provide your prospective customers with more information about your company and your products or services. This essentially allows users to visit your website without leaving WeChat. All you need to do is have photos, a WeChat Official Account, and some compelling Chinese copy to get started!
One of our personal favorite tools that we have seen out there is jisu.cn. They have thousands of templates that allow you to create beautiful customized mini-programs and websites for your WeChat Official Account
A mini-site lends credibility to a company and allows users to access more detailed information than what’s available on your WeChat Official Account. You can even use a mini-site to host your content. This is a popular option as it allows you to create navigation systems providing users with better user experience on your WeChat Official Account.
10. Create Branded WeChat Stickers To Let Users Have Fun With Your Brand
WeChat stickers are one of the most popular features of WeChat. They’re heavily used in all kinds of environments both professional and casual. While you might think this is just a basic function that all messengers have, WeChat stickers are special due to the fact that brands can create their own sticker packs for users to download. If you can create some fun WeChat stickers featuring your brand for users to use in their day to day conversations you can potentially gain a ton of exposure with little to no cost.
Brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton released customized WeChat stickers for the Chinese New Year holiday with a focus on this year’s Chinese Zodiac, the dog. (Source: l2inc.com)
Chinese tend to communicate heavily via instant messaging, and in an effort to break up boring lines of text and improve their communication they rely heavily on WeChat stickers. WeChat stickers tend to be even more popular than emojis, as they allow for a greater range of expression and are easily downloadable from the WeChat sticker shop.
There are thousands of WeChat sticker packs to choose from and users are constantly adding new packs to their collection. Downloading WeChat stickers is incredibly easy, as users only need to long press a sticker and favorite it to add it to their collection. Brands can use this as an opportunity to convert users to ambassadors essentially every time they use branded WeChat stickers in their day to day communication they spread awareness about the brand.
However, before you get started creating your own WeChat stickers it’s important to understand what types of stickers and images Chinese users tend to prefer. Most Chinese prefer to use stickers that are “cute,” so brands can make use of this knowledge to create stickers more likely to appeal to Chinese users. Another way to increase the popularity of your custom stickers is to include the latest trends and slang.
Disney released some cutesy versions of various princesses as WeChat Stickers, to take advantage of the Chinese preference for cuteness. (Source: Daxue Consulting)
One example of understanding the latest trends is the rising popularity of WeChat stickers including the phrase “666,” which is a relatively new slang term for “cool” in Chinese. This definitely confused me the first time I saw it as that particular set of numbers has a very different meaning around my Catholic family.
However, WeChat does have some guidelines for what you can and can’t do with WeChat stickers and how you distribute them.
- Only unbranded stickers are allowed to receive distribution through the WeChat Sticker store.
- Branded stickers can only be distributed through WeChat articles
If you have a big enough WeChat following, it makes sense to create branded stickers for WeChat Stickersdistribution on your WeChat official account. However, if you’re brand new on WeChat and have some very visually recognizable products it might make sense to release it through the WeChat sticker store to receive wider distribution. Starbucks was able to do this with its iconic coffee cups which were created without the Starbucks logo, which allowed them to list the WeChat sticker pack on the WeChat sticker store.
Starbucks was able to get their stickers onto the WeChat Sticker store by purposely excluding its logo from the stickers. However, the stickers are still clearly recognizable as related to Starbucks (Source: Daxue Consulting)
Ultimately WeChat stickers can be a fun way to get brand exposure in an organic and natural way without coming off as too salesy and self-promotional.
Conclusion: How to Use Your WeChat Official Account for Business
WeChat is more than a social networking app. WeChat is an ideal platform to fill the gap between online and offline marketing and is a great way to connect with customers and build greater brand awareness. Don’t miss out this huge opportunity if you want to enter the Chinese market!