Given its omnipresence in China, WeChat plays a key role in marketing and advertising. The first step turns out to be the opening of your own “official account”. Introduced in July 2012, official accounts stand as a channel for entrepreneurs, famous people, media, government, etc. It allows promoting their brand, product, or service to millions of users. In 2021, there are 1.2 billion registered users on WeChat. On average, 60% of WeChat users open the app more than 10 times per day. A great opportunity to increase your visibility in China.
There are several options for businesses planning to launch an official WeChat account. An official account can be either international or Chinese, subscription or service verified or unverified. There is 20+ million official WeChat accounts registered. What about yours?
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International or Chinese WeChat Official Account?
What is the difference then? To put it simply, the international official account logs into an English language platform. Whereas the Chinese official account uses a Chinese language platform. Most importantly, Chinese WeChat users do not have access to WeChat International official accounts. If you want to reach a Chinese audience, you will need a Chinese account. On the other hand, International WeChat users have access to both Chinese and International official accounts.
Your registration for an International or a Chinese account will depend on your objectives in China. Who do you want to target? What type of content will you share? For this first step, answering all these questions will help you make a decision.
Subscription Account or Service Account?
Official accounts can be either a subscription account or a service account. What is the difference?
- Subscription account: It allows you to push frequent content to your followers. However, your profile sits in a subscription account subfolder and your followers are not sent push notifications upon receiving a post from your account. In a word, you will have fewer impressions and reaches. For your brand, it will become extremely challenging not only for the open rate of your daily content but also to maintain a regular conversation with your followers. Having said that, consumer brands such as McDonald’s Hong Kong or Uniqlo China, which consistently provide special offers to customers will find that the new changes still work pretty well because consumers have already been trained to find out the latest offers or product information.
For a brand or publisher such as a magazine that provides quality content to attract subscribers, a subscription account is great. You can open the account on a regular basis and think about opt-in email.
- Service account: It allows 4 posts per month, but you get a prominent position amongst other service accounts. During followers’ ongoing conversations with friends, they will receive a push notification upon receiving your post. Further to this, many of WeChat’s unique features such as CRM, custom menus, and We-Websites are only available to official service accounts. A brand can also leverage one-to-one communication as an extension of its CRM program. For example, Louis Vuitton integrates its Services Account with a live customer service assistant to answer customers’ queries.
For a luxury brand or a financial institution such as China Merchant Bank, the service account is ideal. Other brands like Southern China Airline even use it to integrate their membership card, check-in services, ticket booking, and other services into their WeChat account.
The Other Two “Brothers Accounts”
- Enterprise accounts: They are meant for the internal management of companies. They require both the account and the follower to approve each other. Their content cannot be shared with unauthorized users. They are perfect for a company wanting to spread an internal newsletter.
- WeChat mini-programs: It is a new type of accounts launched in January 2017 by Tencent. They are mostly used for offline applications when the user is only meant to use the app once. They cannot send push notifications.
Enterprise Accounts are mostly used for internal management, and WeChat mini-programs are mostly used for branding and engagement. In 2020, mini-programs reached 300 million daily active users with a growth rate of 45% versus the previous year.
Which One is More Relevant to Choose?
If you are an international brand willing to enter China, then the most recommended choice is definitely to open a Service Account. In the West, companies post content hoping to reach as many followers and views as possible. WeChat is totally different. Your service and customer experience are enhanced.
If a person has chosen to follow your brand, WeChat has no right to filter the communication between you and the user: there is no algorithm. Every time an official account sends a broadcast message, the cell phone of the users that follow it sounds. It is exactly like receiving a message from a friend or family. Why? Because, in the WeChat mentality, the brand is a friend of the user, who has specially chosen to follow.
Is it Better to Have a WeChat Verified Account?
WeChat verification intends to guarantee the truth and security of official account information on the Wechat platform. Other than getting advanced APIs, the verified official account is the prerequisite if you want to host an advertisement via your official account or market it via WeChat ads.
The WeChat team has very strict rules regulating businesses to pass through the verification process. Also, the verification process is not so easy procedure. In regards to the verification checklist, different conditions are required in different regions, Even different account types or industries will have different requirements.
Minimum Requirements for WeChat Offical Accounts
For most companies in China, these documents are required to create an official WeChat account:
- A Chinese business license – Obtained from a local company or WFOE
- Bank access – The verification fee has to be paid by the company, or a small amount is sent to the company as a “verification code”
- A Chinese ID with a WeChat payment account
If you do not have a Chinese business license, the following alternatives exist:
- Register a company
A foreigner can register a company (WFOE – Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise) in China. This is not the recommended approach as it is an expensive and lengthy process, at least 6 months. After setting up the company, you will have a business license to create an account. But it is a big investment, and it is really worth it if you plan to hire people in China.
- A third-party business
With a third-party business license, you can “borrow” a business license from another Chinese entity. With each, you can register 5 WeChat accounts. You will create an account for a management fee of approximately $500 a year. However, the account will remain linked to the Chinese legal entity: you can choose the name, logo, and description of your account, but the company’s legal name will still appear.
- The Tencent process
Go through a special Tencent process that allows you to create a WeChat account visible from China. Tencent charges a verification fee of $99 USD, but it is a procedure that depends on case-by-case and not overused. However, it has the great advantage of enabling you to create an account entirely control by your overseas structure. This process removes the risk of temporarily relying on a third-party structure that has control over your followers.
Limits when you do not have a Chinese business license
In this case, you create an International account visible from Mainland China. You can use the option listed before with some limitations. Indeed, only certain countries or regions outside Mainland China can apply for them such as Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Macau, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam.
Another limit you will face is that you can only create a service account and not a subscription account. Moreover, some of the advanced API functions of these accounts are not enabled. In particular, all the CRM/content API endpoints are disabled. There is the possibility to extend this API access, in order to get the same functions as a local account, but this requires an extra application with Tencent. For what concerns the WeChat application you can find a restriction on WeChat ads and WeChat payment.
The ads application goes through a special process and might be restricted depending on your industry. For instance for finance companies or industries that cannot export to China. Instead, the WeChat payment application can be a long and complex process. You can, however, sidetrack this process by opening a WeChat Cross-border Payment account with a Tencent partner such as NihaoPay.
How Potential Followers Can Find my Brand/Company?
There are several ways WeChat users can find and follow WeChat official accounts:
- WeChat moments
The most common way of acquiring new followers on WeChat is through WeChat Moments, the WeChat equivalent of Instagram stories. Upon clicking on your article, users can access your account page by clicking the name of your account at the top of the article.
- Scanning a QR code
Unlike in Western countries, QR codes are a very popular way to access content. WeChat users can scan QR code which is included in web pages or articles within WeChat (by long-pressing the QR code) or offline by using WeChat’s embedded QR code scanner. QR is perfect for any offline use: they can be added inside your stores, on your products, during your events. They are also ideal for online conversion, for instance at the bottom of an article written about your brand by a Key Opinion Leader.
WeChat ads include a feature enabling to have a “One-click follow” button enabling users to follow a WeChat Official Account. This is a powerful way to get initial traction through Cost Per Click advertising.