Since launching in 2011, WeChat has taken China by storm. Billed as China's 'Twitter', it's more than that. Pay for things, book a taxi or a hotel - but ultimately it's the social media of choice for the masses. How can your company get a slice of the action and what are the ins and outs?
WeChat isn't just a social media app - it's integrated with an array of other services that the popular Western social media giants cannot match. Some of the services are provided by Tencent themselves; others are provided by third-party operators, but all are easy to access from the app.
A big part of the success of WeChat are its extensive APIs. Many third-party systems make use of the WeChat ID, so even if a service isn't directly featured in the WeChat application there's an excellent chance you can still use your WeChat ID with it.
There are two kinds of WeChat account available: Subscription and Service.
Subscription accounts are the basic WeChat accounts that most people have, allowing them to post updates and take advantage of the kinds of services you can see above. All you need to sign up for a subscription account is your phone number.
Service accounts are designed for brands and businesses, and offer the ability to setup your own WeChat store, with interactive menus and the ability to take mobile payments. As the name suggests, Service accounts are ideal for offering online customer service; a place where customers can get in touch with your business and you can respond to them.
Whilst Subscription accounts are free to post as much as they want, Service accounts are restricted to only 4 group message per month, so you can push out a message a week to people following your account, but cannot post with the frequency that you can on Facebook or Twitter. Although the number of messages is limited, users are notified of your posts, so they are likely to have more impact. Restricting posts to just once a week also tends to make companies think more about what they post, increasing the quality of the message.
Registration for a WeChat Service account is officially limited to companies with their own Chinese entities (although, naturally, there are companies willing to help businesses get around this requirement).
Shopping is a huge part of the WeChat experience, and as a business you don't need a separate website to be able to take advantage. If you have a WeChat Service account you can setup your own store on the service itself.
WeChat Stores offer quick, easy-to-use access to your goods or services for Chinese consumers. As most WeChat users, payment is exceptionally straightforward.
A WeChat Store will typically feature a simplified version of your regular e-commerce offering, with cut-down menus that are fast for users of the mobile app to navigate.
An international version of WeChat does exist, but it has very limited functionality compared to the Chinese app. In addition, it is something of a separate eco-system to the Chinese version, with features such as Moments - where you can share what you have been doing with your friends - not appearing for Chinese users when posted on the international WeChat.
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