How did this social network become the most used social network in China and expand its reach to 18 languages and 200 countries in just 6 years? We will tell you all you need to know about how WeChat is used for business in this blog post.
WeChat is called Wei Xin (meaning ‘micro message’) in its domestic Chinese market. Outside of China, it is known as WeChat. However, when we talk about ‘WeChat’, in most cases, we are actually referring to Wei Xin, which is for the Chinese market only and which offers many features that are not available in WeChat. To be consistent and to avoid confusion, we will use the word ‘WeChat’ in reference to Wei Xin.
In summary, it is a lifestyle app. However, it’s not a typical, single-minded app – instead, it has a plethora of functions that could be drawn from multiple lifestyle apps and social media platforms.
It was developed by Tencent, which is the largest and most used internet service portal in China. It was branded as a messenger app at first, but soon grew into an app that covered many functions beyond simply messaging and social media. The New York Times made a very interesting video about WeChat, which sums up what WeChat is in a few minutes and refers to WeChat as ‘the super app’1.
In China, WeChat can displace Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Uber, PayPal, Groupon and much more. Within the app, it is possible to order takeaways, buy train/plane tickets, buy cinema tickets, book hotel rooms, shop online, donate to charities, and pay utility bills.
With such a wide range of services, WeChat has become the most active social platform in China, having overtaken Qzone and Sina Weibo in 2014. It was revealed in the 2016 WeChat data report2 that by the end of 2016, WeChat had reached 768 million daily active users.
The typical WeChat user was born in the 1980s or 1990s. Users born during this period are the most active WeChat users of all age groups. Around half of WeChat users spend over 90 minutes on WeChat daily, according to the WeChat 2016 data report.
With such a vast user base, it was only logical and inevitable that WeChat became a tool that marketers rightly pay attention to when marketing in China.
The sheer size and reach of WeChat make it a no-brainer for businesses to be on the network. From international brands to small local businesses, organisations to celebrities and influencers, everyone is using WeChat to fulfil their business needs. But how exactly should businesses use this powerful platform to reap the full benefits?
A successful WeChat strategy should cover the following key marketing areas.
WeChat can be a great tool for lead generation. It allows users to share content about businesses within their social circle, which can lead to further exposure for the business and help to drive leads. This sounds brilliant, but how exactly does it work? Here is a real life example.
I was looking for a cake shop, to order a birthday cake for my mum’s birthday. However, I could not visit the shops physically as I live in the UK, which meant that my choices were very limited. My cousin recommended a shop to me on WeChat and sent me the contact details of the shop owner. This meant that I could add the person on WeChat and have a look at some of the images and videos posted by the owner, so that I could get a feel for the cakes. I eventually made a purchase and paid through WeChat.
WeChat also has functions that are designed to help businesses reach the right audiences.
For example, WeChat Wallet has a voucher sharing function. Vouchers can be shared when users scan the QR code and select ‘share with friends’. The shared voucher will then be available to all the user’s friends when they visit their WeChat Wallet. This way, even if the person who shares your voucher is not in your target audience, the function can help you to reach your target customers.
There are many other functions on WeChat that can help businesses earn new leads. For example, many businesses provide Wi-Fi to users by asking them to scan a QR code, and in order to keep connected, users must follow the business’s account.
WeChat should be used as a customer relationship management tool. When users follow an account, there must be a reason behind it. If their needs are not fulfilled or the experience is not good enough, the user will simply decide to unfollow the account. It is a common mistake; many businesses just join WeChat, thinking that it is a nice tool to have, without really having a plan on how to use it. They may see a surge of followers at first, but this will fade out over time if there is nothing new or useful to maintain the relationship.
When users follow WeChat accounts, they are either interested in the content or looking for solutions. If I am following a courier service provider, 90% of the time I would like to track my parcel and I expect an instantaneous answer when I enter my tracking code. And, if I have a problem with the tracking, I would expect to be able to speak to someone on WeChat in a timely manner. If the experience is good, I would be encouraged to use the service more. Furthermore, because WeChat saves conversations between users and business accounts, the business account can also understand more about the user. For example, if I tell the business that I am interested in sending a parcel to the UK, then they will know to send me customised offers next time they have a special offer for the UK, instead of sending me something irrelevant, such as offers for the US.
If some questions always have the same answer, it is handy to create a list of FAQs with answers. Once user types in the question, WeChat will match it with the correct presupposed question by detecting keywords used in the question in exact or fuzzy match.
Figure 1 - Auto Reply with Keyword Match
For instance, if someone types in “when is the next SEO training session”, the system will automatically reply with the pre-assigned answer. To keep it professional, it is a good idea to create these template answers in a rich media format.
Figure 2 - Example Rich Media Reply
WeChat is a channel where people read. People read information in their Moments feed and on official accounts that they follow. Also, people can search for content to read inside the WeChat app itself. WeChat users spend as long as 90 minutes per day on the app, although this time is typically split throughout the day into lots of micro moments. Therefore, publishing content on WeChat is a great way to capture the fragmented time people spend on mobile.
Official accounts can regularly push content to followers. If the content is not relevant to them, however, then these people are less likely to interact with the brand next time they post something. Therefore, it is important to segment users and create tailored content for each group. Only if you target the right content to the right group will it get shared and have the chance to go viral.
WeChat has its own advertising platform for verified users. It can be used to promote the official account in order to obtain more followers, send traffic to the user’s website (outside of WeChat) or send users to an APP store download page.
The ads can be shown either in the user’s WeChat Moments as social in-feed ads, or at the bottom of articles from other official accounts. Both ads target users by their social demographic information.
Figure 3 - WeChat Moments Ads (In-Feed Ads)
Figure 4 - WeChat Official Account Ads
As mentioned above, WeChat allows online transactions to take place within the app. WeChat Pay is currently one of the most popular mobile payment methods in China. It was first launched in 2014. It is also widely used offline in physical stores, where payments can be made by scanning a QR code. It has partnered up with Carrefour, which accepts WeChat Pay in 237 Carrefour stores in China.
It is amazing to see how widely WeChat Pay is used. I have seen QR code payments being used in all areas of everyday life, including on vending machines, in shops and in restaurants. During my last visit to Shanghai, a few months ago, I was asked whether I would like to pay my food bill with WeChat or Alipay, while neither card nor cash was mentioned at all. WeChat Pay definitely has a huge market in China and the convenient payment method certainly has the potential to expand elsewhere.
Figure 5 - A Vending Machine That Accepts Mobile Payment
Indeed, WeChat Pay is aiming for the global market. From January 2016, WeChat Pay has been available to overseas businesses, which means that Chinese customers can pay the overseas vendors in Chinese Yuan straight away using the app. WeChat Pay now accepts 9 currencies (GBP, HKD, USD, JPY, CAD, AUD, EUR, NZD and KRW). If overseas businesses in the travel or retail industry embrace this payment method, it would be hugely beneficial for them.
So, now that we’ve mentioned the benefits that WeChat can offer, let’s get down to how WeChat actually works. Where do we start?
As mentioned above, only domestic accounts can access all the functions available on WeChat. So, what is missing from the overseas accounts and where can businesses open their accounts?
A trustworthy business would need to open an official business account. To do this, you need to apply on WeChat’s official website, with a business license and other relevant documents. The overseas platform3 is in English and the domestic platform is in Chinese. The application process is similar in both markets, although if you want to apply for a domestic account, you will also be asked for the operator’s citizen ID information.
It is important to understand that if the account is set up as an overseas account, you won’t be able to target domestic users. Domestic users would be able to find the overseas account, but currently, they would not be able to follow it. To qualify for a domestic account, a business must be a legal entity registered in China, which means that many overseas businesses won’t be able to use WeChat to target China.
There are some agencies that claim that they can open accounts for overseas businesses, but they simply apply using the agency’s information – a deceitful practice that WeChat is cracking down on to keep the internet safe for users.
This risky approach may offer some temporary solutions but, ultimately, it creates more problems for the business in the long-term. After all, the account is linked to the agency that registered it and this can’t be changed on the profile, which is a problem because brand image and brand presentation are very important in the Chinese market. Moreover, in most cases, these accounts are not verified, which means that many functions won’t be available.
The good news is that there are some official overseas partners of WeChat that can assist overseas businesses in opening official accounts that can be used to market to a Chinese audience as an overseas entity.
There are 2 types of accounts designed for business marketing use: subscriptions account and service account. The features are very similar. Here is a comparison of the accounts. As implied by their names, one is designed to publish content (subscriptions account) and the other is for providing services (services account).
Subscriptions accounts are displayed in the subscription folder, while services accounts are displayed in the user’s contacts.
It is important to know that once you have chosen an account type, this decision is irreversible. However, this is generally not a problem, as one business can open up to 50 accounts to suit the different needs of its different divisions. Here is a table that compares the offerings of the two types of accounts.
Figure 6: Subscription and Service Accounts
Once the account has been set up, the first step is to complete the account profile, make sure it is presentable and customise the functions to meet users’ needs. The online management platform offers great tools to customise the account; it is very easy to set up customised tabs, and it is possible to do so in a matter of hours if you have all the content and images ready beforehand. You can preview the final result before pushing it to end users.
Figure 7: WeChat Menu Tab Creation
Once the account has been set up, it will take some time to build a customer user base and let more and more users know about and follow your account.
Adding the QR code to your website and offline materials is the most common method of building followers. Advertising on WeChat is another effective way of quickly boosting your number of followers, as the users who will see your ads are already on the WeChat app and are likely to follow you if they find you relevant.
The advertising function is built-in for all domestic accounts and is open to verified accounts, but is not yet available to overseas accounts.
Figure 8: Function Tab Comparisons for Domestic and Overseas Accounts
It is crucial to retain your hard-earned followers. Retaining followers all comes down to kind of user experiences you can offer. Providing easily accessible, useful information is the key to success. For instance, using customised tabs to display the most requested areas can improve the user experience.
Regularly posting fresh content is encouraged by WeChat and is essential if you want followers to visit your account over and over again. WeChat allows official accounts to send messages to users regularly but not excessively; subscriptions accounts can send one group message per day, and services accounts can only send up to four group messages per month.
Messages can be easily created within the official account in different formats to meet different marketing needs. The messages can be easily targeted at specific types of followers, for example by gender, location and other pre-segmented user groups.
Figure 9: WeChat Broadcast Message
Official accounts can also link certain individual’s accounts (i.e. employees) to their official customer services account. This means that the selected individuals will be able to receive and reply promptly to messages sent to the customer services account, even if they are logged into their individual account only.
To better understand followers, operators should find ways to analyse them and segment them into different groups for future targeting.
WeChat offers some basic follower insights, such as gender, language and devices used.
Figure 10: WeChat User Attribute Report
It is also possible to look into each follower a bit closer, to understand who has been interacting with the official account, which can further assist segmentation decisions.
Figure 11: WeChat Follower Overview
Segmentation not only helps you to learn more about your followers, it also helps you to create tailored services and messages. It is never a good idea to push one message to all your followers.
To conclude, WeChat is a great tool for marketing to Chinese users. It has many exciting functions to explore. WeChat is also rapidly growing and expanding to more and more markets. Businesses should start to think about WeChat, especially businesses in the travel industry. The official account opening process may be a little complicated at the moment, but it is definitely worth the time and effort.