Launched in January 2011 by tech giant Tencent, WeChat surpassed one billion monthly users for the first time in March 2018. Whilst it is starting to make inroads in other Asian and African markets, 90% of those using the app are still based in China.
On face value, WeChat is just like any other messaging app. Like WhatsApp, WeChat allows you to send text and media messages, voice recordings, and make video and voice calls to individuals or groups of contacts. Delve a little deeper and you discover the app offers much more from its messaging platform; location sharing, money transfers, and live GPS tracking. But even this only scratches the surface.
Ordering food, hailing a cab, booking flights, and paying for your coffee are just a few of the daily chores that can be performed through WeChat. Beijing’s courts even allow lawsuits to be filed through the app. The ‘Moments’ page allows individuals and businesses to post content in a Facebook-like feed.
With its wealth of versatile features and enormous user base, WeChat has also emerged as a key player in China’s digital marketing and e-commerce scene.
The rise of Mini-Programs
WeChat launched Mini Programs in 2017 to much hype and fanfare. Although the concept is somewhat abstract, they are best viewed as apps within an app. Within a year of their launch, the platform already offers 580,000 Mini Programs, according to a statement by Hu Renjie, WeChat Program Director.
Companies are now able to develop and launch programs that can be accessed within WeChat, allowing users to interact with content, register for loyalty programs and browse online stores without having to switch between apps. This has sparked a new trend, with key opinion leaders (KOLs) building their own content pages where followers can view and purchase sponsored goods directly through the app. Bridging the entire process from content advertising to sales has greatly enhanced WeChat’s appeal as a digital marketing and e-commerce tool.
One such Mini Program, developed by Tesla, allows owners of their electric cars to locate charging stations and share information and opinions with other Tesla drivers. In addition, Tesla allows prospective owners to book test drives through their Mini Program.
Official Wechat accounts (subscription, service, corporate)
There are three types of WeChat account for companies and brands, catering for everyone looking to use WeChat for business purposes. These are Subscription Accounts, Service Accounts, and Corporate Accounts (also referred to as Enterprise Accounts).
Subscription and service accounts can be verified by WeChat for a small annual fee, giving account holders access to additional marketing and sales features and a greater degree of customization.
Companies without a Chinese business license can apply for an international WeChat account. Requirements and rules differ for each type of account and are constantly changing.
The subscription account is an ideal way for bloggers and content rich companies to tap into WeChat’s marketing potential. It allows account holders to share one post a day, containing one to six articles. Whilst it allows for frequent content sharing, these messages appear in the user’s ‘Subscription’ folder on their chat list, so the content isn’t visible without the user accessing the folder. A Chinese ID is required to open a subscription account but they are available to companies and individuals alike.
The service account is more geared toward product and service-based companies. Whilst service accounts are limited to four messages per month, these appear directly on the follower’s chat list, increasing exposure. Creating a service account also enables WeChat payment and in-app store creation. A Chinese business license, or an agreement with a licensed third party, is required if you want your content to be accessible to Chinese users.
Whereas service and subscription accounts enable businesses to access new and existing customers, corporate accounts focus on internal company communication and management tools.
At Creative Union, we actually use Dingtalk, an Alibaba-developed app. In a future post we will offer a comparison between the services offered by DingTalk and WeChat’s corporate account.
Sogou: Wechat’s search function
Such is the power of WeChat that the success of one of China’s biggest search engines, Sogou, is dependent on the app. Thanks to Tencent’s investment in Sogou, the search engine boasts the unique advantage of having access to the vast catalogue of WeChat business accounts, Mini Programs, and official content. Sogou works directly through the app and on a stand-alone platform that shows WeChat-related content and general results, such as the company’s LinkedIn profile.
Sogou is important to the development of WeChat as a marketing and commerce platform as it offers users another way to find official accounts, posts that mention the subject or company, and Mini Programs they’re interested in; content which could otherwise be buried in the mountain of official account data.
Wechat for companies: how to make to most of it?
WeChat is invaluable as a Chinese digital marketing and e-commerce platform, but to make the most of its abundance of features, it pays to have experience on your side. Whether you’re looking to showcase a product launch, set up a WeChat store, find partners and distributors, or connect with KOLs to promote your business, Creative Union can help lead the way.