With more than a billion active users, WeChat is installed on over 80% of Chinese smartphones. The handy messaging app is referred to as a public utility in China and is a critical channel for growing sales in this market. But WeChat’s not an easy platform to make a success of, particularly if you’re a foreign brand entering the market for the first time.
Opening a business-type account on WeChat can be challenging. Although it is possible to open a WeChat account with a foreign business license for China, it can take up to three months to get this approved.
You’ll also need to commit to a certain level of ad spend and you’ll need to negotiate with WeChat owner Tencent to get the same level of visibility as a domestic Chinese business.
If you don’t do this, as a foreign business you face some feature restrictions. You’ll need to gather a lot of documentation to submit your application to open an account; things such as your company registration documents and tax forms.
It’s advisable to find a reliable local business partner for setting up your presence, not just on WeChat, but across China’s wider online ecosystem.
It’s not merely a case of understanding the language and translating your content, it’s also about navigating the landscape. Tencent doesn’t offer a lot of guidelines for opening an account, so a local partner may be better able to advise.
You’ll need to decide what type of account you want to create. WeChat offers two main options for reaching customers: the service account and the subscription account. The former offers push notifications and custom menus, the latter offers neither of these features but allows you to publish more content. A third account type is useful as an internal corporate communications tool for your business.
WeChat offers a lot of different ways to engage an audience. The mini-programs are a kind of ‘app within an app’ offering a fast, smooth user experience that allows your followers to do things such as purchase products, book something, or complete a task.
Tesla used this scheme to create a campaign allowing followers to schedule a test drive. Many luxury brands have also embraced the mini-programs, these include the likes of Burberry and Gucci.
It’s not essential to rely on mini-programs to implement these kinds of tools for your user; you can instead use your own apps to create an eCommerce platform and to offer other services.
Mini-programs seem to be particularly well integrated with subscription accounts although they lack some features. For example, users can’t share them and (unlike other web apps) they only work within WeChat.
Content on WeChat
Your content approach can make or break your WeChat venture. Remember, WeChat only lets your account publish a limited amount of content in a given timeframe – so every piece of content really needs to count.
Users value content that’s useful and informative; they like video, and only a small proportion of your published content should be promotional. Naturally, it needs to be in the local language.
Don’t be shy of cross-promoting WeChat content on your other platforms and across the web. QR codes are frequently used by brands doing this in China. You can seed your content onto channels such as Weibo, in forums, and in paid search on Baidu. It’s a way to make your content strategy cast a wider net.
Don’t neglect the interactive element of WeChat. You need to have facilities and resources in place to respond to customer interactions on the platform. Make sure you have native language teams in place to do this. Fortunately, there are many different ways to engage with your audience on WeChat, including group chat, one-to-one messaging, and community pages.
It’s worth noting that WeChat’s not yet enjoyed significant success outside China. Attempts at cracking huge markets such as Brazil and India were unsuccessful, with local audiences preferring to stick to their existing messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
It’s also failed to get much of a foothold in the wider Asia region in markets such as Indonesia. It has a small presence in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Thailand, but it’s by no means as popular as it is at home in China.
And perhaps it’s no wonder. Domestically, WeChat offers Chinese users a highly integrated service that lets them perform a huge number of tasks from booking plane tickets to making payments to friends and family. Outside China, WeChat was always trying to flog a much more limited service.
It’s so ubiquitous inside this market that many users don’t really question the platform’s frustrating flaws. There are serious security shortcomings, such as a lack of end-to-end encryption on message exchanges.
Messages are thought to be censored, although it’s unclear what the mechanism is for this. Your brand needs to consider these aspects carefully from a corporate social responsibility perspective before you commit to engaging on the platform.