WeChat is the #1 social media platform in China. So how are international businesses taking advantage of the platform, which has over a billion monthly active users?

What is WeChat?

If you want to do business in China, you need to be on WeChat. It’s the number one social network for one of the biggest consumer markets in the world.

WeChat is more than just a social media platform, now that it has grown so much, the closer comparison is that it’s your entire iOS app system on your smartphone. What started out as a chat app, similar to Whatsapp, Messenger and more, grew so quickly in popularity in China, that the company has built in all sorts of new features, especially WeChat business features, which is what has catapulted it to success. 

WeChat’s core features are:

  • Sending messages to your contacts
  • Creating chat groups with friends, colleagues or to subscribe to public conversations on key topics
  • WeChat business pages, that allow brands to share updates, news and content to build trust and relationships with their followers
  • WeChat Moments feed to share short highlights with your friends and connections
  • Calling (including video calling)
  • WeChat Pay – use the app to purchase online or offline at a point of sale
  • QR code sharing that is the new business card in China
  • Apps to book taxis, accommodation, order food delivery and more
  • An open marketplace where any company can create a WeChat business app – from WeChat storefronts to fully functional apps

 

Why don’t Chinese consumers use other social networking platforms, like Facebook?

One of the biggest reasons WeChat is so popular in China, is because of what’s known as the Great Firewall. The Chinese government has strict controls on the internet, and most overseas websites and social media networks are blocked. 

This has meant that the tech industry in China has thrived, and developers have created their own versions of many popular social networks and apps – all totally customised to the nuances of Chinese culture, including how people do business in China.

 

How do Businesses Use WeChat?

Because the Chinese digital landscape is so different from the West, and WeChat has become so popular, WeChat is now the number one place to be if you are a business or brand want to promote to consumers – or even other businesses. Many social media networks have risen to popularity and just as quickly faded, but WeChat has developed in a way that has made it particularly ‘sticky.’ 

This means that now, many businesses don’t even set up a website in China, instead they focus on launching a WeChat business profile, and building followers they regularly engage with content, offers and promotions.

The main avenue for WeChat business promotions and engagements are:

  • Creating a WeChat business profile
  • Growing their followers through all marketing channels – including promoting their profile instore or in other communication channels such as emails and sales calls
  • Posting regular, engaging content their tells their business story
  • Creating WeChat stores to sell their products
  • Using WeChat Pay to process payments – including in store, online and from overseas
  • Running targeted WeChat advertising campaigns

 

Why is WeChat content so important for businesses?

The most important thing to understand when wanting to launch a WeChat business strategy is the business culture in China. With such a big, dense population in a rapidly growing economy, advertising is rife in China. Just think of the classic image of an inner city street in China, Hong Kong, or even Chinatown locations in major overseas cities: business signs and advertising everywhere the eye can see!

It’s a similar phenomenon online, and it’s one of the major reasons Chinese consumers don’t simply click on ads and purchase right away. In fact, trust in any form of advertising is pretty low in China.

Instead, businesses in China gain success by building trust with their customers (and followers) over the long term, through word of mouth, and through referrals and recommendations. Chinese consumers look to their friends, family and trusted business connections for recommendations, and these carry the most weight. 

That’s also the reason why influencers, or Key Opinion Leaders, are big business in China.

So if you want to gain a foothold in China and sell to Chinese consumers, you need to build trust. This is best achieved by posting regular, engaging articles, images, advice, videos and more that will help consumers learn about your business, its values, its products/services, their benefits and why they should build trust with you.

Compelling offers, promotions and incentives are also really popular to help overcome the trust barriers.

 

How do consumers interact with businesses on WeChat?

Chinese consumers interact with businesses by following their WeChat business accounts for regular updates. Eventually, when they have built trust with that business, they can communicate directly with that business through customer service features of WeChat, and they can purchase from them via a WeChat store.

A WeChat business account functions similarly to an email newsletter – every follower gets a notification every time you post, meaning content is highly engaged. Businesses on WeChat can also take advantage of SEO/search functionality within the app, which helps people discover your business on WeChat.

How to launch a WeChat Business strategy from outside of China

As an overseas business, it’s now easier than ever to launch a WeChat business strategy from overseas. Until recently, WeChat was closed off to international businesses, but now they have opened up the platform to allow businesses from just about all countries to create a verified WeChat business account – also known as a WeChat Official account.

Previously, you needed a Chinese business license to get one, but now WeChat will recognise business certificates from over 100 countries around the world.

How to get a WeChat Official Account

To register a WeChat official account, head to the WeChat Official Accounts platform. You’ll need to submit an application, and it can take a few weeks to get through the process. WeChat verifies every business that registers an account, so there are never any fraudulent accounts or duplicates and no trademark issues. WeChat works with a number of third party agencies to process this verification, so the process will vary depending on which agency your application is sent to.

You’ll need to supply:

  • Your official government business registration certificate
  • Your last 3 month’s phone bills to verify your phone number
  • Your personal ID
  • A signed application form, which can be downloaded from the platform.

The applicant should be a Director of the company whose name would be visible in a company search. Additionally, the agency will send email enquiries to your public customer service email and call your public number to confirm they are correct. They may also request colleagues confirm you work at the business and sometimes steps such as signing your registration certificate or sending an image of a business card.

The fee for this process is $99 USD, and it must be completed annually to maintain your account.

Many of our clients find this a cumbersome process (and often there are some language barriers throughout), so we offer an additional service of managing this process on their behalf. If you would like to register a WeChat Official account, or you have tried already and found it difficult, don’t hesitate to reach out and we will be happy to help you.

 

What is the difference between a WeChat service account and a WeChat Subscription Account?

There are two types of WeChat business accounts – service accounts and subscription accounts. 

Service accounts are designed for more interactions with customers. You can publish 1 post per week with a batch of up to 6 articles, and have the ability to create apps, send notifications to customers and interact directly. Service accounts sit in the chat folder, next to conversations with your friends, so are highly engaged. They also send a notification every time content is published.

Subscription accounts are designed for more frequent posts, but only sharing content. This is more like a blog style of account. These accounts can post a batch of articles, once a day, up to 30 days per month. However, these accounts lack a lot of interaction functionality, and are also hidden away somewhat in a folder so they don’t get as much cut through.

International businesses are only allowed to apply for a Service account.


Can you do WeChat advertising?

WeChat has a range of advertising features – most notable WeChat moments ads, which show in the ‘news feed’ area of the app. WeChat also ads banners to the bottom of articles. These ads allow you to target cities in China and various demographics, however, the Chinese government places restrictions on who can advertise. 

These are broadly in line with general restricted industries in China – promoting foreign investment, gambling, drinking etc.

 

How can I grow my WeChat business account?

If you have a WeChat business account, the most important thing to do is to make sure your existing audience knows you have one! WeChat business accounts are rare overseas, but there is a good chance you already have fans and customers who use WeChat. Make sure you share your WeChat details in your emails, on your website, in store and in any brochures. Every WeChat account comes with a QR code (with your logo embedded) which you can add anywhere your customers will see it.

If you’re in an eligible industry, consider launching your account with a WeChat advertising strategy. Your ads should have either a really good deal/incentive/offer, or some really compelling content the viewers will want to read and then continue to follow you with.

Ask your customers to share your posts to their friends, and consider referral incentives.

Finally, influencers, or key opinion leaders, can truly catapult you to WeChat success. Key Opinion Leaders in China are more influential than you could imagine (compared to Western social media influencers) – many famous for selling out entire product lines in minutes with their posts. Influencers can be a really affordable way to spread your brand and message and grow your account quickly.

 

How do I launch a WeChat store?

If you want to sell products via WeChat – be it to local Chinese consumers or those in China, it’s really easy and affordable to set up a WeChat store. This will enable you to showcase products, take payments and integrate them into your social content. 

There are many great pre-made templates that allow you to set up a store in minutes – similar to Shopify in the west. You’ll need someone to help you translate and configure it, and to make sure you are set up to take payments.

 

It’s time to launch your WeChat business strategy

If you’re ready to tap in to the incredible valuable Chinese market, WeChat is your first step! At WeTools, we specialise in making WeChat business strategies easy for international businesses. We have developed a super simple platform to register a WeChat Official account, add content in English, get it translated and schedule your WeChat posts. We also help set up WeChat advertising campaigns and configure WeChat stores for you to start transacting with Chinese buyers.

All along the way, our WeChat operations team, who have international marketing expertise, will give you support, guidance and strategic advice to help make sure your WeChat campaigns are a success.

Get in touch if you’d like to hear more or book a demo of our platform – head to our contact page to enquire.