WeChat logo

What is WeChat? It’s a question that clients often ask us at Nanjing Marketing Group. More specifically clients want to know how WeChat (wei xin 微信 in Chinese) can be used for marketing.

So that is the inspiration behind this blog. I want to give you a simple explanation of this very popular Chinese instant messaging (IM) app. I’ll look at some of the numbers behind WeChat, what it is primarily used for, the diverse ways it can be used and I’ll also look at its marketing potential.

WeChat by numbers
WeChat is created by Tencent a Chinese Internet company. Tencent has one other IM app, QQ, and also two social networks, Qzone and Tencent Weibo. All of these social platforms combined have over 2 billion active users. A lot of the same people have accounts on different platforms, but it just shows how dominant Tencent are.

WeChat active users

In fact the latest figures released by Tencent show that in Q4 2013 WeChat had 355 million active monthly users reflecting the expansion of users outside of China.

A report from January 2014 suggested that WeChat had 100 million registered overseas users. The app is available in 15 languages helping to drive expansion outside of China.

It’s also interesting to note that there are 500 million mobile Internet users in China according to CNNIC and 600 million registered accounts. This suggests that every Chinese smartphone user has a WeChat account with the other 100 million accounts dotted around the world.

WeChat as a social platform
So what is WeChat used for? In a meeting with my colleagues recently I asked this exact question. Of the 15 people in the meeting 12 have WeChat on their smartphone. 10 of them said they used it everyday. But what for?

It is primarily an IM tool. People use it for talking to friends. There are various options to do this.

WeChat services

If you have a QQ account you can contact these friends via WeChat. The app also automatically connects contacts stored in your phone. For example if a phone contact joins WeChat you’ll receive a message asking if you want to connect.

You can also add people by their personalized WeChat ID. The user has an option to create an ID meaning that if they lose their phone or change phone number they can keep the same WeChat account.

Then there is the friend radar.

friend radar

This is a brilliant feature and has more use than just being social. Friend radar lets you find people nearby using real-time location sharing. So instead of adding one contact at a time a number of people in a room can add multiple contacts at the same time.

In the example above I was able to add four new contacts in a matter of seconds. This feature would be brilliant for exchanging contact information with a number of people at a conference or trade show for example.

The most recent update of WeChat also let users connect their LinkedIn account to WeChat making the app into more professional territory. It means WeChat can move away from being simply a social IM tool and can be used for job hunting.

Then there is the WeChat newsfeed called “moments”.

WeChat moments

This lets you share a moment in your day with all your contacts.

And finally from a social point of view you can do what one of my colleagues said, “add a selfie”! This is something that Chinese girls do best.

The average user might only use WeChat as they do Facebook. They can keep in contact with friends and family, share moments in their life and make new friends. But WeChat is so much more than this.

WeChat as a payment platform

WeChat services

The ‘My Bank Cards’ section lets you add your bank card details to WeChat. You can then use this to pay for products and services through your phone using Tencent’s Tenpay online payment service.

bank card services

The services include mobile top up, a wealth section, ordering a taxi through your phone, buy movie tickets, split a bill, special deals exclusive to WeChat users on Tencent’s B2C online store, buying coins to play QQ games and giving friends and family ‘Hong Bao’.

Below I’ll look at some of these features in more detail.

bank card social

WeChat’s taxi-hailing service, Didi Dache, lets you order a taxi and pay for the service all without leaving WeChat. Currently there is a discount if you pay through the payment app too. It’s also possible to buy movie tickets through the app.

finance services

WeChat set up its own online wealth management fund called Li Cai Tong (理财通). It’s similar to Alipay’s Yu’e Bao and is another feature that broadens WeChat’s appeal beyond the normal social features.

People can also send ‘Hong Bao’ or red packets. These gifts are traditionally given to youngsters at Chinese New Year. This way of giving cash gifts was done in record numbers during the previous Chinese New Year in February 2014.

WeChat special offers

The specials sections gives you access to decent reductions on products available from Tencent’s online B2C platform wanggou.com (website in Chinese). There are best buys, brands and other assortments as you browse the app looking for deals.

sticker shop

And then there is the sticker shop. You can purchase various emoticons and add these to your messages. This is mainly aimed at children, but gives a good insight into the diverse demographic that WeChat appeals to.

WeChat for marketing
So in what ways is WeChat interesting to a marketer?

Within WeChat you can follow public accounts that will periodically send you information. These accounts can be companies, brands, bars, nightclubs, hotels or publications.

There are two types of accounts you can follow: Service Accounts and Subscription Accounts.

accounts location

The two types of account have differences in set up and usage. But from a marketing perspective they are a way to find brand advocates and to get information to people about your products and services.

Lets start with Service Accounts.

Services page

I have four service accounts on WeChat. There is a health club, a hotel, an Italian restaurant and a clothing retailer. I followed these accounts by scanning a QR code with the QR code scanner that is built into WeChat.

services large company

The Service Account for Gap is the most useful of all the Service Accounts I follow. But what can it actually do?

With a Service Account the owner can change the menu options at the bottom page to anything they want. In the case of Gap they have chosen three different tabs that a user can view: a frontline fashion tab, information about the Gap app and hot trends and a ‘my Gap’ tab.

The information available runs from new products, in-store offers, offers available to WeChat users, jobs at Gap and even a link to the Gap website. And this all opens within the WeChat app.

The Service Account for Ciao Italia, an Italian restaurant in Nanjing, has customized their menu in a totally different way.

services small company

They have four different menu options: take away, menu, book a table and store. You can browse the restaurant menu and see what is available before you book a table and dine in or get a take out.

health club offers

The health club has three tabs. These are more to do with the service at the club: you can get in touch with the reps at your local club, have a look at their Sina Weibo account for up to date information and talk to someone to make a complaint!

The advantages of a Service Account are that you can customize the WeChat portal to your needs. The health club has pretty limited options compared to Gap, for example, who want to use the service for online to offline (O2O) purposes.

The disadvantage with the Service Account is that you can only send one message a week to your followers. But if the people following the account regularly check for offers etc. then this is not a problem.

The Subscription Account differs in that an owner can send one message to the followers of the account every 24 hours. The menu options are not customizable so the account suits a different need.

subscriptions page

Subscription Accounts are much more prevalent than Service Accounts. The ones I follow range from local bars to national restaurants, from local music promoters to international tech publications.

The great thing with the Subscription Account is that when there is a new notification it shows within the app, but does pop up on your phone as a push notification.

unread subscriptions

You only get the notification when you login to the app. This way a follower is not disturbed at all hours and is in control of how and when they read their notifications.

subscriptions information

The examples above are for a newspaper and blog that I follow. When you click on a headline the story opens within WeChat. The examples below are for a nightclub and a restaurant that I follow.

subscriptions social

The great thing about Subscription Accounts is that they are a way to give your followers regular up to date information. For example a restaurant might let you know about daily specials. A blog can give you daily news to your phone.

A good example of WeChat being used for marketing is by Burberry, the British fashion label, during the company’s Autumn/Winter 2014 show. Users were able to get exclusive audio and video from designers and pictures and messages from celebrities.

As well as this by subscribing to the Burberry WeChat platform followers were able to get a customized plaque commemorating the show. This is all part of Burberry’s marketing drive into the Chinese market.

Nanjing Marketing Group also provides WeChat marketing services, so feel free to contact us.


WeChat as everything
WeChat has also diversified by moving into hardware. By partnering with firms who make the hardware WeChat are enabling users to use their platform for a multitude of things such as printing photos wirelessly and also using WeChat payment with a WeChat POS machine.

This all feeds into Tencent’s desired aim of bringing O2O services into mainstream use. WeChat users can use Tenpay through WeChat’s payment service on their phone using a QR code to make the payment. It allows businesses to use e-coupons, group-buying deals and online ordering.

There’s also talk that WeChat will be issuing E-credit cards that can be used through the WeChat portal. Again it will be a case of scanning a QR code to make payment through Tenpay.

The simple truth is that WeChat can be used for everything. It is constantly expanding and improving and giving users new reasons not to leave the app. For any company moving into the Chinese market I’d say it’s essential that they have an understanding of what WeChat is.

To really get your products and services recognized in China then it’s important to use WeChat for marketing. A Service or Subscription Account can really help to connect with your customers locally. It allows users to use WeChat to make payments, but benefit offline too.


Do you use WeChat? What do you use it for? Do you have any other questions about WeChat? Please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

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