Ultimate Guide

Ultimate Guide to WeChat for Business 2019

By January 21, 2019 February 21st, 2019 No Comments
Ultimate Guide to WeChat for Business 2019

This is the guide for you if you're interested in the Chinese market. Companies all over are interested in creating a presence in China. One of the best ways of doing this is by using WeChat for Business. This guide is going to be a little more intricate than the others because WeChat is one of the more mysterious messaging apps.

This post is designed to help you with your research, we're going to be answering questions like:

What is WeChat?

The 4 main panels of wechat
The Four Main Screens of WeChat

Talking about WeChat as just another messaging app is the wrong way of understanding what WeChat is. If we compare WeChat to western apps it would a combination of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Apple Pay, Venmo, Tinder, Flipboard, Bank of America App & App Store.

That list seems ridiculously long and broad, but it is not an exaggeration. Using the people nearby feature you are able to find people close to you just like Tinder. Using top stories you are able to find trending articles just like Flipboard, except WeChat doesn't scrape the internet, those articles were posted by companies in WeChat. But perhaps the biggest difference between WeChat and western messaging apps is WeChat Pay.

WeChat Pay

WeChat Pay Interface with QR Censored
WeChat Pay Interface with QR Code Censored

Users of WeChat Pay can connect their bank account and start using the WeChat Payments network. Unlike Visa, MasterCard, Apple Pay and others WeChat Pay works on the basis of QR codes. Because phones can both scan and display QR codes all you need to have to either take payments or make payments is a smartphone and a WeChat account. There are no expensive terminals for businesses to buy or rent, allowing even the lowest volume street sellers to go completely cashless. Wow!

Because of payments, WeChat does not derive their revenues from advertising, unlike Facebook and Google. Their revenue is generated from transaction charges and the sales of financial products like savings accounts, insurance, and even small loans. Therefore pay per click advertising on WeChat is not especially targeted nor inexpensive. More on this later.

Why Use WeChat for Business?

Unlike other messaging apps, this is a very simple question to answer. If you're looking to market or to support customers in China or Chinese customers abroad you definitely need WeChat.

WeChat is the most commonly used app in China with 973 Monthly Active Users. That means you'll get access to about 74% of China's 1.3 Billion people just through one app. Since most of everything can be done inside the app the average user spends about 70 minutes a day on WeChat. In China, the app accounts for 34% of all data transferred over the internet.

However, WeChat isn't just about targeting Chinese users in China. It's also about accommodating the massive Chinese diaspora around the world. More and more Chinese people are using WeChat to pay around the world. In Japan, the number of stores that accept WeChat pay increased 35x from 2017 to 2018.

Types of WeChat Business Accounts

WeChat Official Accounts Platform
The WeChat Official Account Platform

There are special WeChat accounts designated for business use. Known as the WeChat Official Account, businesses are provided with the WeChat Official Accounts Platform to manage them. There are 3 different types of WeChat Official Account: Subscription Accounts, Service Accounts & WeChat Work. Articles on the web usually refer to WeChat Work as Corporate or Enterprise accounts.

WeChat Subscription Accounts and WeChat Service Accounts allow users to build a relationship and communicate with their customers. WeChat Work accounts are to be used as internal company messengers much like Slack. We are going to cover Subscription and Service accounts.

What is a WeChat Subscription Account?

WeChat Subscription accounts are for celebrities or small single individual businesses that need to post a lot of content. Compared to other messaging apps business accounts WeChat Official Accounts have more restrictions designed to stop companies from creating a poor user experience with too many push notifications.

The beauty of the subscription account type is that you can send a mass broadcast once per day. And aside from just messages, you can even post 6 full articles, (blogs in Wechat) as long as you post them all at the same time. This may seem draconian but there is a reason behind the madness. These posts show up in WeChat Moments, roughly equivalent to Facebooks News Feed. WeChat Moments does not prioritize posts it thinks you will like. Moments simply shows posts from your friends and the accounts you are subscribed to in chronological order.

Having more articles posted is better for discovery as the WeChat search function also shows articles that are relevant to your search. If your objective is to get the most content into the WeChat platform as possible, this is the account for you.

WeChat Subscription Accounts from the WeChat Users Perspective
Subscription Accounts from the WeChat Users Perspective

Naturally, there are downsides to a subscription account. As shown above, subscription accounts are nested inside a folder on the contacts screen. Therefore a new message would not send this account to the top of your screen like a friend messaging you. But a Service Account can.

What is a WeChat Service Account?

WeChat Service Accounts are for small, medium or even enterprise size businesses. Unlike subscription accounts where you can only post, a WeChat Service Account gives you access to many more sales and service oriented functions. This means you are able to open a WeChat store, add your own Mini Programs (WeChat Apps) and access additional WeChat functions.

WeChat Service Account from users perspective
Service Account From A WeChat Users Perspective

Another important distinction is that Service Accounts sit on the first level of contacts, you are no longer hidden behind the subscriptions folder. Thus, whenever you send a broadcast, your WeChat Official Account will jump to the top of the contact list. But with great power comes great responsibility and WeChat limits you to 4 broadcasts per month. So make sure to use your broadcasts wisely.

Summary of WeChat Official Account Differences
Summary of WeChat Official Account Differences

WeChat Official Account Verification

Did you think the complexity was over? 🙈 For companies that want to get the most out of the WeChat features, they will have to go through verification. We are not going to go into great detail on this as it is quite a time consuming and laborious process. You're going to need your business registration and several other documents handy in order to go through this. Make sure that you scan everything in color. We learned this the hard way. We actually really recommend that if you are going to make a WeChat account you contact a professional.

How Does a WeChat Official Account Fit Your Use Cases?

Just like any other messaging app, if you start using a WeChat Official Account for your business you will need to know the best ways for users to discover you, follow you and how you can broadcast back to them. In WeChat world things are a little bit more complicated so pay attention.

Marketing & Lead Generation on a WeChat Official Account

If you've read some of our ultimate guide articles already you know that the most difficult part about acquiring users on most messaging apps is that they have to message you first. WeChat is similar but not the same. The user doesn't actually have to message you, all they really have to do is follow your account and you will be able to send broadcast messages to them. 🎊

Let Users Discover Your WeChat Official Account with QR Codes

QR Codes are everything on WeChat
Yes QR Codes Are That Popular

QR codes are everything in China. In my experience, you can do all your daily errands with QR codes. Need to get on the metro, scan the metro turnstile code with your metro WeChat mini-app. Want a soda? Scan the vending machine with WeChat Pay. Want to get a someone's number at the club? Scan their WeChat contact card.

In short, companies who advertise on billboards or subway ads will have QR codes in their ads for users to interact with. And here's the kicker, if you want to pay with WeChat pay at a store or a restaurant you will have to follow their account first. But, if you're an international company looking for customers in China that is likely not an option for you. Although you should add your QR code to your website.

WeChat Moments Ads

Anatomy of a WeChat Moments Ad
Anatomy of a WeChat Moments Ad

The fastest way to get people to follow your WeChat Official account is going to be by using WeChat Moments Ads. These ads are very similar to the ads you see on your mobile Facebook News Feed.

The ad is composed of several elements. The company logo doubles as a follow button. Clicking it allows you to broadcast messages back to them. The tag on the top right marks the post as a sponsored post. Clicking on the picture allows users to open a gallery with up to 9 photos. The interaction button on the bottom right allows users to like or comment on the post. In addition, there is a hyperlink just below the post headline.

Advertising on WeChat is not for the faint of heart though. There are fewer targeting options than you would expect, especially if you have worked with Facebook or Google Ads before. You'll be able to target people based on gender, location, age, education operating system and whether they are on WiFi or not. Interest-based targeting is not a thing. In addition, you'll need to start with a minimum spend of $15,000 USD and the rates for a moments ad start at about $45 USD per thousand impressions.

Since acquiring users on WeChat is very expensive you'll need to make sure that after you've acquired your contacts you engage with the audience wisely using messages and broadcasts.

Organising Contacts in the WeChat Official Accounts Platform

Compared to other messaging apps, the business account platform for WeChat will feel a little bit unintuitive and lacking in features. But, although it is hard to navigate it is quite powerful in certain surprising areas.

Because WeChat allows so few broadcasts, 4 a month in the case of a Service Account like ours, it is going to be very important to ensure that you use a proper targeting and content strategy to maximize the investment you made to acquire contacts in the first place.

Targeting Followers in the WeChat Official Accounts Platform
Followers Screen In The WeChat Official Accounts Platform

In the WeChat Official Accounts platform your contacts are named followers. To organise these followers you have a few basic features:

  • Tags
  • Blacklists
  • Aliases

There are two ways to add tags. You may do so for individual followers by clicking the drop down next to their avatar. An interstitial will show all possible tags and allow you to select the assigned tags through a check box. You can also check all the users you want to tag, select the tag and label several users at a time. #timesaver

Followers may be added to a black list by selecting the follower check box and pressing add to black list. This will stop the user from messaging you and will also stop broadcasts from being delivered to them. In addition you may press modify remarks next to the followers name and change their alias. (display name)

The interface also has functions for search and filtering. You can search for followers by name using the search bar or select the tags to the right of the follower list to filter by tag. Although, this is rather simplified compared to other apps, this followers screen does the job.

Broadcasting Messages in the WeChat Official Accounts Platform

Broadcast Screen on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform
WeChat Official Accounts Platform Home Screen

Figuring out how to send a broadcast message on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform took too long to figure out. 😅 We have gotten accustomed to our own platform and others like ours. We spent too long looking for the broadcast screen in the left navigation bar and actually went through every link looking for it. Then we gave up and went to lunch. When we got back we realized it is was on the home screen all along.

New Broadcast Message Screen on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform
New Broadcast Message Screen on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform

Once you click on New Group Message a broadcast generator of epic proportions will appear. You can target users based on tag, gender or broadcast area. Opening the broadcast area drop down will give you a selection of countries. But there is no way to select several countries, you can just chose to broadcast to one at a time or all countries.

Choosing Posts To Broadcast on the WeChat Official Account Platform
Choosing Posts To Broadcast on the WeChat Official Account Platform

There are three ways to select/create content for your broadcast. The first is choosing from existing posts. This makes sense on WeChat because of the broadcast limitations, you won't be able to broadcast a lot, but you can broadcast up to 6 articles at a time. This option will allow you to go ahead and rebroadcast posts you've created previously or create 6 posts and broadcast them all at once.

Broadcasting Others Posts on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform
Broadcasting Others Posts on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform

The third option allows you to share others posts. By clicking the share button your will receive a prompt that allows you to enter the link of other posts inside the WeChat ecosystem and broadcast them to your followers. This is a great option for influencers.

Creating a Post to Broadcast on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform
Creating a Post to Broadcast on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform

The second option is the one we think you'll use most often. By clicking it you'll be taken to an HTML editor. This may be rather jarring as other messaging apps really only allow text and images in their broadcasts but things work differently in WeChat. Don't be scared because this is just a way of writing a blog post in WeChat. Using it is actually rather easy as we were able to copy and paste directly from our own blog into this window. Then we updated the feature image, fixed some small text formatting issues which were related to bullet points and we were ready to go.

This post builder even has a nice preview feature where you can actually broadcast a preview of the post to your own WeChat account to make sure it looks good on mobile.

Customer Service On The WeChat Official Accounts Platform

Customer service on the WeChat official accounts platform is nice because there is a desktop web client where you can invite other users from your company, so you can have more than one person available to reply to your contacts at any given time.

Onboarding Contacts on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform

We always say this but it is worth repeating. When interacting with customers through a messenger, the first interaction is highly important. WeChat gives you two features to make these interactions successful, a custom menu and an auto-reply function.

Custom Menu on WeChat Official Accounts Platform

Custom Menu on WeChat Official Account
Custom Menu on WeChat Official Account

Much like Facebook Messenger, WeChat has a chat menu where users can interact without actually typing. The menu can have up to 3 buttons at the bottom of the screen. These buttons can have up to 5 sub menu items each. Each of these buttons can do one of 3 things: send a message, link to a web page or open a WeChat mini program.

We were not able to try the WeChat mini program unfortunately because we do not have one published, but we have seen this function work on other official accounts. The jump to a webpage function also works, as we were easily able to create a button that goes to the Rocketbots website.

Send a Message Option of WeChat Official Accounts Menu
Send a Message Option of WeChat Official Accounts Menu

The send a message option gave us some trouble. As we assumed you could just type in a text message like get started which would work in concert with the auto-reply function described below. However, we were not able to get this to work, because the message can only be a post on WeChat. We are not sure why it is built like this but we were not able to create a button that triggers a plain text message to be sent. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Auto Reply on WeChat Official Accounts Platform

Set up Auto Reply of WeChat Official Accounts Platform
Auto Reply of WeChat Official Accounts Platform

When we first opened this feature we assumed it was very useful. We thought it would give us the ability to create a list of keywords and set up replies for those keywords. We were partially right, but we were also very very wrong.

Setup an Auto Reply of WeChat Official Accounts Platform
Setup an Auto Reply of WeChat Official Accounts Platform

Actually, it wasn't that much of a surprise. The feature does have keywords that require either a partial or an exact match and this is good. But unfortunately, just like the menu, we were unable to reply with a plain text response. We were only able to respond with WeChat articles that we had already posted.

So we quickly made an auto-reply with WhatsApp and we confirmed that it does work. However, we are not really sure how this feature is useful.

Responding to Contacts on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform

When we first started writing this post, we hoped that the custom menu & auto-reply would also be helpful with customer service related tasks. Unfortunately, they are not, but the WeChat Official Account platform does have one feature to help you with customer support, replying to messages.

Messages on the WeChat Official Account Platform

Messages Interface on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform
Messages Interface on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform

The messaging interface on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform can only be described as from 1999. There is no messenger per se, but when a new message does come in you're able to answer it using the reply button.

Answering Messages on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform
Answering Messages on the WeChat Official Accounts Platform

Once you hit the reply button a little dropdown will allow you to enter a plain text message. Hurray! We replied to our own message and it did in fact send. The interesting part of this interface is once you reply to a message, you can reply again but you can never really see what messages you send back after the fact. Strange.

Is That Everything You Can Do With WeChat Official Accounts

Not at all. We've covered all the aspects that are related to messaging but there are several other things you can do that are not covered here. For example, building a mini app or connecting a third part CRM. We'll cover these in a future post.

Iaroslav Kudritskiy

Iaroslav Kudritskiy

Iaroslav is the driving force behind the conversational design at Rocketbots and the creator of the Rocketbots Academy courseware. His previous roles designing information management systems and horizontal knowledge transfer strategies at Kodak Alaris, Xaxis & Light Reaction. A graduate of the MBA program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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