How to use WeChat is one of the most frequently asked questions our China experts at China Gravy receive. That’s why we’ve decided to put together a practical article showing and explaining everything you need to know about WeChat and its functions from a marketing point of view.
What’s WeChat again?
In case you haven’t heard (we doubt it), WeChat (or Wēixìn in Chinese, meaning tiny message) is basically as synonymous with China as the Chinese wall, green tea, silk, and the spicy hot pot dish.
Originally released in 2011 with two versions on different servers, 微信 (Weixin) served the Chinese market, and WeChat was for the international market. A few years ago, the servers were merged and both applications offered the same functions.
With the new Chinese Data Privacy Law effective in November 2021, more restrictions in mainland China are to be expected. This might lead to Weixin and WeChat being more separated entities in the future again.
The company behind WeChat is Tencent, a Chinese multinational technology giant. The app’s ecosystem has a large variety of functions and features like mini-apps. This is one of the reasons WeChat is far more influential than standard messenger services used around the world like other popular messenger apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Telegram.
Who uses WeChat?
With WhatsApp being blocked in China, users in the Middle Kingdom rely on WeChat. Today, with 1.25 billion monthly active users in 2021, the WeChat app is more than just a social network. Chinese consumers use it to purchase items, reserve and book taxis, restaurants, etc., research, buy, chat, and much more.
To connect with business partners go to their website and look for their WeChat ID, respectively the QR code or QQ number which is often the same as the WeChat ID. So, let’s look at how this popular app is structured.
How to Use WeChat
Using WeChat for your business communication in China – from suppliers to partners like KOL influencers, and your target audience – is a clever move. We’ll guide you through the process of how to use WeChat step by step.
1. Getting WeChat
First, you’ll have to get the app on your phone. Go to your Apple or Android app store and download WeChat. Next, follow the setup and installation instructions. You can sign up via a mobile phone number or Facebook. If you choose registration via mobile phone number, enter your name, phone number, and a password.
Agree to the terms of service and click on sign up. Now, follow the security process to verify your user profile including a verification code to your mobile phone number. Finally, contact a user who already has WeChat for 1 month or more (you don’t have to be friends with them) and ask them to scan the QR code on your phone to finalize the setup process.
Downloading and using WeChat is free of charge.
2. WeChat Features and Functions
Let’s take a look at the main features and how to use them for your business to communicate with your suppliers and partners by using an individual account.
First, open the WeChat app to get started!
WeChat is structured as follows:
A. Main Menu (Bottom)
B. Top Menu
C. Top Right Menu (+)
- Start a New Chat
- Add Contacts
A. Main Menu (Bottom)
On the chat page, you will notice that there are not only private conversations with people you know. There are also brands with service and subscription accounts as well as Group Chats.
If you are not yet fluent in Chinese, you may be happy to read that the Chat section has a built-in translation service from Chinese to English. This allows you to communicate more easily with native Chinese speakers, who often can read English, but prefer to reply in Chinese. The quality of this built-in translation feature is rather good.
This menu option is self-explaining – you can find all your contacts here and further options. Besides, you can add tags to your contacts, which can be helpful to keep your contacts organized and allow you to search for certain keywords that you previously added, e.g. the location of the supplier or specialized products.
Options in Contacts
- New Friends
- Group Chats
- These group chats have a moderator to avoid spam/misbehavior and are typically very topic-specific. Group Chats can equally function as internal work chats for businesses or to communicate more informally.
- Official Accounts
- Service accounts typically contain promotional articles and posts. Find out all about designing WeChat posts aka WeChat articles from scratch or by using Xiumi here. In the menu of those official accounts users often find further links to the brand sites, stores, and so on. Besides, WeChat users can send direct messages to these business accounts.
- Subscription accounts are located in the special subscriptions folder. They contain articles and posts from brands. Compared to service accounts, subscription accounts can publish more articles and have a wider reach (e.g. suitable for magazines). Tip: Keep in mind that as an international business you can only open a WeChat service account, but not a subscription account. That’s not an issue as a service account is more suitable for brand promotion with its specific functions.
- Contact List
- Sorted A-Z, Chinese sorted in Pinyin
The discover section has the following features:
- Similar to the Facebook/Instagram timeline, including sharing of discounts and special promotions among users. They blend in with the page to appear just like regular user-generated posts. Moments are typically pictures with text, which other users can like and comment on.
- You can view Moments here, and create your own Moments in the Me > My Posts section. Business accounts can publish Moments ads, which get displayed here.
- Channels (Little Videos)
- Similar look and feel to Douyin/TikTok with short videos on relevant topics for each specific user. View the channels of your friends.
- If you’re outside of China, you can’t create your own channel (only available on Weixin).
- QR codes and built-in OCR reader (optical character recognition)
- Randomly connect with others who are using the Shake function
- Search for messages, news, accounts, and more
- Find people who are close to you, often used by the WeChat community for online dating and making new friends
- Options: Mini-Programs Nearby, Popular, My Orders, My Mini Programs, Recently Used.
- Mini-Programs are often related to special promotions, discounts, and other deals, but a mini-app can also be an e-shop.
- The main advantage of these mini-apps compared to a regular app is that it loads very quickly and is easy to install as you don’t have to leave WeChat – both main drivers in the Chinese online world.
- Besides, due to the immense popularity of WeChat, even large brands may have additional products and deals on WeChat that they don’t have on their official website or app. The purchase process is super quick and easy as well, making it highly popular among Chinese consumers.
Here, all account information and settings can be found.
- My profile: Profile photo, name, WeChat ID, My QR Code (popular feature to connect with other WeChat users and business partners), More
- WeChat Pay: For Chinese residents only
- My Posts: Create your own posts and view old ones
- Sticker Gallery: WeChat stickers are not only fun but also a great marketing tool
- Settings: Here’s an interesting feature. Go to General > WeChat Tools > Broadcast Messages. This allows you to send a message to all your contacts or selected contacts at once.
B. Top Menu
China’s second most popular search engine Sogou is integrated here to search outside the WeChat ecosystem.
You can also search for a keyword and see the WeChat index (not the search volume) to give you an idea of the relevance and trends if you’re creating promotional content for your target audience.
You will also find the top search topics here.
C. Top Right Menu (+)
Click on the + to expand the menu.
- Start a New Chat: send standard text messages, take and send photos (album, camera), make phone calls (video call, voice call), send your location, Red Packet, transfer, send voice messages (voice input)
- Add Contacts: Invite friends, Friend Radar, Join Private Group, Scan QR Code (to add friends), Mobile Contacts, Official Accounts, WeChat Work Contacts
- Scan: payment option for you to scan a QR code at the cash register
- Money: payment option for cashier to scan your QR code
If new contacts send you a friend request, you will receive a notification on your phone. Activate the friends radar to find new contacts around you more easily.
1. Make online payments with WeChat Pay by linking credit cards and bank accounts to your Wallet. Since 2020, users are only able to use WeChat Pay with Chinese credit cards and bank accounts (e.g. Union Pay Card). It’s no longer possible to connect non-Chinese credit cards and bank accounts.
2. A pro WeChat business user tip is influencer marketing. Collaborate closely with suitable KOLs, KOCs, and Wanghong to promote your brand in China. Influencers in China are often idolized and engage their fans and followers with catchy content, live streaming, tutorials, and more. Your private WeChat account is ideal for this as the communication is more personalized and targeted.
4. You can also use the translation feature in WeChat to learn a few words in Chinese. Your current and potential new business partners will appreciate your effort. And you will be one step closer to building a good Guanxi.
5. To establish yourself in a new niche, expand your business and discuss your niche with other industry experts and professionals, you can work on getting invitations for business development/networking related Group Chats. Ask your Chinese friends and colleagues for tips as there is no search function for group chats as they are very topic-specific and rather private as described above.
6. Use the WeChat scan function to scan business accounts that you want to follow – suppliers, partners, and competitors.
Congratulations, now you know how to use WeChat. From Chats and Contacts to Discover and Me – you are now an expert. Use this knowledge to connect with business suppliers and partners like KOL influencers in China as well as a large ready-to-buy Chinese audience in mainland China and around the world.
Are you ready to boost your business and conquer the Chinese market? Speak to the China experts at China Gravy to unlock opportunities for your company in the Middle Kingdom through the power of digital marketing. Get your FREE consultation today!