WeChat is a phenomenon. In the space of a few years it has grown to be China’s most popular instant messaging (IM) app, and then some. As well as IM, the WeChat platform is e-commerce, gaming, banking and marketing.
In Q2 2014 Tencent’s figures showed that WeChat now has 438 million monthly active users (MAU), up from 396 million MAU in Q1. To put this into perspective, Whatsapp, the popular IM app owned by Facebook, has 600 million MAU. Viber, the free calls and IM app, has 100 million MAU.
China’s most popular microblogging platform, Sina Weibo, has 157 million MAU in Q2 2014. Twitter, the most popular microblogging platform around, has 255 million MAU as of Q1 2014.
Of course, the leading social network in the world Facebook has a huge user base with 1.23 billion MAU. Of these monthly active users 945 million are mobile users and 757 million are daily active users (DAU). China’s largest social media platform Qzone has 645 million MAU as of Q2 this year.
What is WeChat?
But WeChat is so much more than just a messaging app. It transcends the social network spectrum in a way that is sometimes difficult to assess. What is for certain is that WeChat’s popularity doesn’t seem to be waning. And this has alerted brands to the platform’s marketing potential.
Even though there have been stories of the Chinese government forcing owners of the WeChat public accounts (the marketing platforms) to register their real identities, it has not dampened the appeal of using WeChat for marketing. In fact the Chinese Communist Party has set up its own WeChat account!
But how can WeChat be used for marketing? In this article I’m going to look at what different marketing options there are on WeChat. If you’re thinking of setting up a public account on the platform then the information below will help you decide which option is right for you.
Personal and business public accounts
The development of the WeChat public account market is really heating up in China. WeChat has released a series of APIs and services to encourage all types of businesses to use the WeChat public account system to develop custom features for their account.
It is only two years since the public account system was launched and the number of public accounts out there has reached 5.8 million.
First, it’s important to note that there are two different types of public account: personal and business.
But what is the difference between a personal and business public account?
The main difference is to do with registration. To register a business public account you must have a Chinese business license or a partner like Nanjing Marketing Group to help you.
To register a personal public account you have to use a Chinese ID number. The ID number does not necessarily need to be the person who owns the account, but has to be a legitimate ID number.
It’s important to note at this point that a Chinese ID number can only be used to register two different WeChat personal public accounts.
The next difference is the length of time it takes to open the account. A business public account takes up to seven working days to become active. A personal public account takes up to three working days to become active.
There are also differences in functionality between the two types of public account.
If a company decides to set up a personal public account then the only available platform is a subscription account. On the other hand, if a business account is set up then it’s possible to apply for either a subscription or service account.
Subscription and services accounts
So, what is the difference between a subscription and service account? In WeChat the two types of account can be found in the ‘Official Account’ menu in the contacts list.
Subscription accounts are more immediate and let you interact with your followers more frequently. With a subscription account you can send one message every 48 hours to your followers.
There is no push service on WeChat with a subscription account, but your followers will see a notification when they enter the WeChat platform.
A service account allows you to interact with your followers in a different way. You are only able to send one message to your followers every week. However, your followers will get an alert when you send a message, via a push service.
But a service account enables you to customise the menu within the public account, something you are unable to do with a subscription account unless you verify the account.
Different accounts for different businesses
But before you think about verifying the account you have to make some choices. If you choose a personal public account, it’s not possible to open a service account.
Therefore registering a personal public account limits what you can use the WeChat marketing platform for.
With this in mind, I’d suggest that a personal public subscription account is best for a media services, such as a tech blog, that wants to share content it produces everyday.
It doesn’t matter if the menu is customised as followers will just be given updates of what is on the blog for example. The interaction goes in one direction from company to customer.
Another possible use for a subscription account is for personal brand communication. If you want to get a user base of followers and expand your personal brand by delivering various types of content then a subscription account is a great way to do this.
A service account is better for business services and corporate branding.
A fashion brand could use a WeChat service account to keep followers informed about new fashion lines and weekly in-store offers, utilising O2O. Via the customised menu they could give away e-giftcards and special offers only for WeChat followers.
A service account could also utilise WeChat micro-channel payments, again via the customised menu. Followers could set up personal accounts using a form of membership only for users of the WeChat platform.
A service account can also help with corporate branding. Whereas personal branding might just be one way, the interaction of a customised menu can help to develop a reciprocal relationship that is preferable for corporate branding.
The WeChat account verification process is a way to make your account official. Followers can see the gold tick and be sure that the account is run by a genuine business.
If a business public subscription account is verified then it can be upgraded to a business public service account and the menu can be customised. You don’t need to verify a business public service account to customise it.
A personal public subscription account cannot be upgraded, even if it is verified. Once the account is set up, it has to stay as it is.
Demand for public accounts
There is a real clamour at this time to set up shop on WeChat. The public account system has really caught marketer’s attention with the range of possibilities that the platform can satisfy.
Brands from various industries are thinking of ways of engaging with followers on the platform. There are APIs out there and a big demand for developers to create customised features specific to brands demands.
As I’ve shown, there are various different options that WeChat have produced for businesses to use the public account system. Whether it’s a personal or business public account or a subscription of service account, the possibilities seem endless.
And all these different possibilities have made me think about the public account that the Chinese Communist Party set up. I wonder if it’s a subscription or a service account?