WeChat lets users lead their lives online. It also allows companies to get closer to customers than ever before. We discuss how to use the app well and grow your business in China.

WeChat was developed with the mission for connecting everything, and it’s pretty close to doing just that. As one American venture capitalist puts it, WeChat is there “at every point of your daily contact with the world, from morning until night” (source: The Economist). But most significantly for eCommerce, it is slowly but surely producing a cashless economy in China.

Though known as WeChat outside China, its domestic product is known as WeiXin, and contains far more useful features. A hugely popular lifestyle app with 768 million daily users, it allows people to pay bills, order takeout, shop online and interact on social media all in the same place. Its massive success makes WeChat a crucial element of any social media strategy in China. For maximum impact, here are our secrets to success to make sure that your chats with users develop into more lasting relationships.

1. START RIGHT

There are two different versions of WeChat for overseas and Chinese users. If you want to connect with Chinese users, you will need a domestic account. Although Chinese users can search for overseas accounts, they can’t follow them, which means your reach will be limited from the get-go. But getting a domestic account can be easier said than done. You will need an official business account, and to get this, you need to prove you are a legal entity registered in China, supplying WeChat with your business license and other relevant documents before you are allowed to begin.

It can be tempting to cut corners in this lengthy process. Some agencies offer to open accounts for overseas businesses, setting them up under the agency’s own address. This is not a good idea. Chinese users have been burned in the past by untrustworthy, low-quality domestic products. They often look to overseas brands for what they see as higher-quality products, and so brand image is seen as an important marker of quality. You don’t want to damage this reputation before you’ve even started. It may take longer, but it is definitely worth jumping through all the hoops to get a domestic account. Thankfully, there are some legitimate overseas WeChat partners who can help you open an official account the right way.

2. DEFINE YOURSELF

Once you’re in, you need to make it count. Users who follow accounts do so primarily for two reasons: they’re either looking for content or solutions to their issues, for example if they are having problems with their online orders. The first decision to be made is therefore which type of account you want: a subscriptions account for content, or a services account for customer service. Choose wisely, for this decision is irreversible – though you can open up to 50 different accounts to suit the various divisions of your business.

This is an important decision, and one that should be made with care. Many businesses join WeChat without any real strategy. Without a vision, any initial attention will fizzle out. So if you want to use the app to produce good content, update it regularly and make it high quality. If you’re promising excellent customer service, then make sure it’s fast, reliable and dependable. If it’s not good enough, your page will be unfollowed, and your reach will be limited.

You then need to fill in the account and make it presentable. Providing detailed, relevant, and easily accessible information is crucial if you want to make or retain fans. You also need to be prepared to publish new content regularly in order to encourage people to keep revisiting your page. The account can be easily customized, offering personalized tabs to give your page a uniquely personal feel.

3. MAKE FRIENDS

WeChat is a personal form of social media, based on the interactions of smaller groups of individuals, so communication with your target audience needs to be personalized and carefully tailored. Half of WeChat’s users use the app for over 90 minutes daily, split into micro-moments across the day (source: Webcertain). You need to capitalize on these mini-moments to make them think of you – for all the right reasons.

It’s never a good idea to send just one message to all users, as this will be seen as spam and will deter users from returning to your page. Instead, the best way of looking at WeChat is as a customer management tool. By providing good customer service or interesting, relevant content, you can build a relationship with users. As you get to know them, you can then send tailored information and encourage them to tell their friends. For example, using WeChat Wallet, users can share your vouchers with friends, expanding awareness of your brand perhaps even to people outside your target audience.

If you want to get the word out, consider fusing online and offline content. Add a QR code to your print material and website to draw people to your WeChat page, and this can turn your real fans into virtual ones. For example, many businesses offer free Wi-Fi to users who scan their QR code and follow the businesses’ account. Merging online and offline payment using QR codes is also possible through WeChat Pay and is another way of building awareness of your presence on WeChat.

Advertising is possible on WeChat, either appearing on users’ Moments page or at the bottom of articles, and you can also send push notifications to users. WeChat Moments’ latest features allow brands to include short videos – either in a 6- or 15-second format – as a teaser to be shown on a user’s timeline. Interested viewers can click on the video, through which they will be directed to an internal ad page to view the full commercial (source: Jing Daily). In terms of audience insights, WeChat provides basic user information on things like gender and language, and it also saves conversations between businesses and users, which means that if a user tells you they want to send something to France, you can send them customized offers about France in the future. If your content is relevant, tailored and shared with the right people, users will come back to your page again and again.

FINAL THOUGHT

020 campaigns are taking off with great success. A great case study is from one of our clients, Uniqlo, who managed to boost their WeChat followers from 400,000 to one million in six months.

The campaign was called Style Your Life, which fused physical stores and social media sharing. Users were encourages to try on outfits instore where they could take selfies in front of monitors projecting scenes from around the world, such as London and Tokyo. QR codes enabled the images to be automatically uploaded to WeChat, where they could be shared with friends. Smart move from a great brand.