WeChat (Weixin in Chinese) is the largest social media app in China. Launched in 2011, it has already grown to over a billion monthly active users, dominating the social media and messaging space in China.
WeChat is now a go-to channel for merchants to promote their brand and sell their products in China. If you want to leverage WeChat to grow your business in China, here's your guide to getting started.
What is WeChat?
WeChat is a social media and messaging app that was developed in China. It is similar to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, but it also has a lot of other features that make it unique.
WeChat has a 1.24 billion user base and is the largest social media app in China. It is available in both Chinese and English, making it accessible to a global audience.
How WeChat works for businesses
WeChat for Business is a promotional tool that allows businesses to set up a presence on the WeChat platform. By setting up a WeChat store, businesses can sell their products directly to Chinese consumers.
WeChat for Business is a powerful way to reach Chinese consumers, as the app has over a billion monthly active users. In addition, WeChat users are highly engaged with the app, spending an average of two hours per day on it.
The app contains four main sections that are particularly important for business owners:
- WeChat chat interface. A chat interface similar to Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
- WeChat moments. Similar to the Facebook timeline, it is the place where users can post or access news from their friends
- WeChat wallet. This gives users access to payment services, money transfers, flight and movie tickets, and more.
- WeChat Pay. This is the payment service that is built into the app. Users can link their bank account or credit card to the app and use it to make payments in-app or in-store.
By combining social media, chat, and payment features, WeChat has become a powerful promotional tool for ecommerce businesses social selling in China. Over 100 countries can now apply for an account with WeChat, even if they don’t have a Chinese business license.
Who owns WeChat?
WeChat is owned by the Chinese tech giant Tencent. Tencent is one of the largest tech companies in the world, with a market capitalization of over $251 billion.
Tencent also owns:
- QQ, a social networking and instant messaging app with more than 552 million monthly active users
- Tencent Games, the largest gaming company in the world
- Tencent Music, the largest music streaming service in China
Tencent also has a minority stake in Snapchat, and it is an investor in several other tech companies, including Tesla, Lyft, and Reddit.
How to use WeChat for business
But how can you, as a brand, set up your own presence on WeChat? Here are the steps to follow, from setting up your WeChat account to marketing it to WeChat users.
1. Set up a brand page on WeChat
Unlike Facebook or Instagram, brand posts on WeChat do not appear on the main social timeline. Instead, they appear in WeChat’s chat interface.
A brand page on WeChat is called a WeChat Official Account.
There are three types of WeChat Official Accounts that can be used for marketing:
- WeChat service accounts. These accounts appear alongside “friends” for WeChat users. They are extremely visible but are limited to four push notifications per month. It offers customer service, ecommerce, CRM, and API integration features.
- WeChat subscription accounts. These accounts can post articles daily (one push notification per day) but are less visible than service accounts in your news feeds. They appear in a “subscription” folder that users have to open in order to see the latest articles.
- WeChat enterprise accounts. These accounts are for corporations like Slack or Facebook.
Both types of accounts let you send an unlimited number of messages to any user who messages the account directly.
These messages will be considered “customer service messages” and will therefore not be counted into the account quota. The customer service window lasts 48 hours from the moment the account receives the last message from that user.
Users can then open either a service account or their subscription account folder in order to access articles published by brands.
How to create a WeChat Official Account
You can start creating a WeChat Official Account by going to the WeChat Official Accounts page and completing the following steps:
- Select your country.
- Select your account type (in the case of an overseas account, Service Account will be your only option).
- Submit the required materials from WeChat.
- Confirm your phone number via SMS verification.
- Pay the $99 USD verification fee to WeChat.
- Receive a verification call from a WeChat representative who will review and verify your application.
2. Create a WeChat store
WeChat shops are ecommerce experiences embedded within WeChat. A brand can make its products available through WeChat by creating a WeChat store.
WeChat stores benefit from several unique features:
- WeChat stores show up in the WeChat search engine.
- Customers can use WeChat payments to check out.
- Customers can use WeChat’s one-click login to authenticate themselves.
- Your store can pre-fill the user’s shipping addresses stored within WeChat.
- A better integration with WeChat influencer campaigns.
- Influencers can create direct links for a WeChat article to a WeChat store.
- You can offer a native, in-app shopping experience for potential customers.
In particular, WeChat’s integration with influencer campaigns is one of the main advantages you get with a WeChat store compared to traditional websites.
Conversion rates are also much higher, as each step on the user path is optimized for WeChat.
This integration between social and ecommerce has been extremely successful in China. In 2018, influencer Becky Li sold 100 Mini Coopers within five minutes on WeChat!
How to create a WeChat shop
WeChat shops are not provided directly by WeChat. In that sense, they are completely different from Facebook shops or Google Listings. Instead, WeChat provides a toolkit (SDK and API) that enables merchants to create WeChat shops using a special programming language.
As a merchant, you have two options in order to create a WeChat mini-program shop:
- Develop a shop in-house. In order to do so, you will need a dedicated, most likely Chinese-speaking, development team. This is the path chosen by very large brands or influencers who want to have complete control over their mini-program experience.
- Use a software-as-a-service WeChat shop provider. Many brands will choose a SaaS provider, which will enable them to launch a WeChat shop faster and at a lower cost.
WeChat shop SaaS providers
The market for WeChat shop providers is highly fragmented, with thousands of different players. But a few of them are worth a mention:
- Youzan. Likely the most famous WeChat store provider, this company operates thousands of stores in Mainland China, from small stores to large enterprises such as Dell. Their WeChat stores offer a wide variety of features, including gamification, group buying, and affiliate sales.
- Weidian. A more affordable version of Youzan, Weidian stores don’t require a fee to get started (provided you keep the Weidian branding), and you will only have to pay in order to use some of the most advanced features. However, due to its lower price positioning, Weidian also has fewer features than Youzan.
- WalktheChat. WalktheChat is focused on cross-border WeChat stores (merchants outside China promoting themselves in China). It supports cross-border payments, has an English-language back end and integrates with Shopify, enabling you to synchronize orders, products, and inventory. Disclaimer: The author of this article is affiliated with WalktheChat.
Once you set up your store, you will become visible within WeChat. However, launching a WeChat shop is just like launching a website: It won’t get you any sales unless you promote it. Let’s look at a few options to get customers to your WeChat shop.
3. Advertise your WeChat shop
There are three main types of advertising on WeChat: WeChat Moment ads, WeChat Mini-program ads, and WeChat article ads.
WeChat Moment ads
WeChat Moment ads appear on the main WeChat social timeline (WeChat Moments). They are very similar to Facebook mobile timeline ads.
These ads open a landing page that can then lead to either a website, a Mini-program, or a download page on App stores.
These ads are the most visible of WeChat ads. They are, however, also the most expensive, with a CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) of around 65 renminbi ($9.10 USD).
WeChat Mini-program ads
WeChat also enables display advertising within WeChat Mini-programs.
In practice, these ads behave like advertising banners on newspapers: the developer of a Mini-program can define locations where they would accept ads to be displayed. WeChat then optimizes the type of ads in order to maximize user engagement, and the Mini-program developer receives a share of the ad revenue.
Mini-program ads can also be displayed as interstitial ads in WeChat games.
The links can take users to a website, another Mini-program, a WeChat Official Account, a WeChat coupon, or a game on the App Store.
WeChat Mini-program ads are much cheaper than WeChat Moment ads, with a CPM around 11 renminbi ($1.50 USD)
WeChat article ads
WeChat article ads are displayed at the bottom of an article from another WeChat Official Account.
As WeChat Mini-program ads, they behave like advertising banners on websites. Accounts can opt-in for these ads to be displayed and will then receive a share of revenue.
WeChat article ads can take users to websites, Mini-programs, WeChat Official Accounts, app stores or WeChat coupons.
WeChat article ads are among the cheapest with a CPM of about 6 renminbi (80¢ USD)
Comparison of different ads formats
Of these three advertising formats, which is the best for brands? Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- WeChat Moment ads stand out with an extremely high CPM. They are, however, a very powerful way to generate brand awareness. They are the right choice if you want to spread the word about your brand but are not focused on conversions.
- WeChat Mini-program ads are located in visible locations of WeChat Mini-programs, which are seeing a continuous rise in engagement. They are affordable, and perfect for conversion to either WeChat followers or sales.
- WeChat article ads are the cheapest of all WeChat ad formats, but also the ones with the lowest level of engagement. We recommend them mostly for follower growth campaigns or retargeting.
How to open your WeChat advertising account
In order to open your WeChat advertising account, log in to your WeChat Official Account and click on “Advertiser” in the “Promotion” tab of the left menu.
The next page will be displayed in Chinese. You can use Google Translate to translate it to English, and click on the “Advertiser” button.
- Accounts in the real estate, supplements, and financial industries will systematically get rejected
- Accounts in the fashion industry are the most likely to pass the verification
- If you are unable to pass the verification on your own, you might need to reach out to one of WeChat’s partner digital marketing agencies in order to help you with the process
4. Interact with WeChat users
Interacting with WeChat users is essential in China, where word-of-mouth is very powerful.
Three types of interaction should be part of your WeChat marketing strategy.
Telegram, Facebook groups, and even WhatsApp groups are popular in the Western world. WeChat groups are the equivalent in China.
In China, nearly all major ecommerce platforms have WeChat groups for users to complain and ask for help. The users of the group also help each other out whenever possible.
WeChat groups also often exist for meetups and communities around an interest. WeChat groups are a great place to talk directly to your customers in real time and give them the best possible experience.
Everything is social in China. To buy a restaurant meal, a hotel room or a rental car, users can read reviews and ratings, comment on the business, and even rate the services the business provides, just like on TripAdvisor.
Unlike on TripAdvisor, however, users won’t just do one review or rating; they will consistently update it every time they use the same service.
For a business in China, customer testimonials on WeChat matter a lot. Make sure to constantly interact with users on your WeChat Moment and WeChat Official Account posts to turn them into your loyal customers.
QR codes are a great way to give users a richer and more interactive brand experience. You can use a QR code to let people scan and access your WeChat Official Account, a Mini-program, a coupon, a product page on Taobao, your profile, or even a WeChat group. Users can also use a QR code to apply for a job, use a bank service, or even buy a ticket in a stadium.
5. Partner with KOLs
WeChat’s key opinion leaders (KOLs) are influencers typically selected by WeChat because they have high follower numbers and are highly engaged with their followers.
Due to the fact WeChat KOLs are selected by WeChat, they have a high level of trust among users. This co-marketing partnership is a great way to expand visibility on WeChat, generate word of mouth or even drive sales.
“If you’re a brand, you’ll pay a key opinion leader to write about your brand. These are influencers. It’ll be a much more organic, integrated experience, frankly,” said Yiren Lu, a writer who covers WeChat and Chinese technology, to ModernRetail.
“In general, a lot of these people are very good writers and they can give a much more authentic sense of your product and make their audience feel like, ‘I’m just a friend of yours, you happen to like my writing and my images, and I’m recommending this out of the goodness of my heart.’”
6. Stream live on WeChat
WeChat livestreaming is a great way to connect with your target audience. WeChat livestreaming allows users to share their live video stream directly to their followers on their WeChat Official Accounts.
Live streaming sessions are saved and can be reviewed so users who might have missed the live broadcast can still watch the recording. It’s a great way to directly promote products, build engagement, and inspire action.
Case study: Botkier New York sells designer bags to the Chinese market
WeChat shops can be powerful tools for new brands to launch in China. They enable a lean approach, at a much more affordable cost than launching on online marketplaces such as Tmall or via offline distributors.
Botkier New York is a contemporary accessories line launched in 2003, and a Shopify Plus merchant. Botkier wanted to enter the Chinese market in a lean way by starting with Chinese social media WeChat and Weibo, and eventually convert traffic into sales.
Botkier launched in China by setting up WeChat and Weibo accounts and a WeChat shop, along with sales-driven marketing campaigns on WeChat and Weibo.
Botkier’s store launched in late August and benefited greatly from its Singles’ Day promotion (Singles’ Day is the biggest shopping festival on the planet, organized by Alibaba on November 11 of each year).
The NYC brand saw tremendous results from its WeChat and Weibo investment:
- 750,000 users reached during its Singles’ Days promotion
- 960% return on investment after three months of operation
- 600% growth of its WeChat followers during its Singles’ Day promotion
In order to generate growth, Botkier tapped into the organic interest in its products, and accelerated its momentum via influencer marketing. The combination of a Shopify-integrated WeChat shop, targeted gifting to relevant influencers, and high-ROI paid influencer campaigns was the key to Botkier’s success in China.
Sell your products in China through WeChat
WeChat is a powerful ecosystem through which to launch a brand in China.
By leveraging cross-border payments and influencers, companies can quickly grow their presence in the Chinese market, setting themselves up to expand further through a popular ecommerce market.
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WeChat business FAQ
What is WeChat for business?
How do I create a WeChat business account?
Does WeChat have business accounts?
How can I use the WeChat app for business?
- Create a brand page.
- Build a WeChat shop.
- Advertise your WeChat shop
- Partner with KOLs
- Provide customer service