Opinion: It’s time we talked about WeChat

Nicole Ci gives us the lowdown on China's "super app".

Words by Nicole Ci, project manager at IBTM China

Chinese social media giant WeChat (known in China as Weixin) has around one billion active monthly users, making it the country’s most used app.

In fact, WeChat has become so ubiquitous in China that it is now one of the main ways people communicate here. Even at work and when doing business, WeChat is used more than email, so it’s an important tool to get to grips with if you are looking to do business in the APAC region.

Here’s a helpful guide to what it is and how it can help you yield fantastic business results in the region.

China’s answer to Facebook

Competing social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram are blocked under China’s internet censorship policy, and while WeChat is often called China’s answer to Facebook, the ‘super-app’ is streets ahead of its US counterpart, offering users a vast digital platform that integrates instant messaging, social entertainment and digital lifestyle management – all in one app.

WeChat owner, Chinese tech giant Tencent’s mission is “to improve the quality of life through internet value-added services”. An industry leader and pioneer of innovation, Tencent aims to provide platforms and services that connect everything, and WeChat is its primary vehicle.

Since its launch in 2011, the app has evolved into the living embodiment of this ambitious goal, and more and more businesses across the world are realising its huge potential to reach millions of customers in China and across the APAC region.

Endless possibilities

During its short life, WeChat has been transformed from a messaging app into a digital ecosystem that enables its users to build blogs and make money selling advertising space on them (millions of yuan in some cases), play games, pay for goods, top-up mobile phone credit, hail a taxi, make doctor’s appointments, book flights and hotels…the list is almost endless.

WeChat’s social feature ‘Moments’ enables users to engage in real-time communications via text and multimedia messages, make video calls and share photos. They can play games, create gifs to stick on their personal ‘Sticker Gallery’ and find new friends using innovative friend-adding services such as ‘Shake’ (connect with anyone, anywhere when they shake their phone when you do) and ‘People Nearby’ (connect with people nearby).

WeChat for business

WeChat is accessible worldwide, but most of its users – up to 90 percent – are in China. To promote services and products to WeChat users in mainland China, you must have a business presence registered in the country. If you do, you can go ahead and choose which WeChat subscription you would like and start using the platform. If your business doesn’t have a presence in China, there are still an estimated 100 million international users of WeChat you can target (including Chinese users in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau).

As a marketing tool, WeChat connects people with one another, with smart devices and with business services. For example, Dianping, a restaurant-rating app, DiDi a ride-hailing service and Meituan, a food delivery service, can all promote their services to users from within WeChat and can all be used from within its ecosystem – there’s no need to leave the app.

With many brands jumping on board and seeing WeChat as the gateway to reaching a potential pool of millions of Chinese customers however, it pays to spend a bit of time making sure your content stands out from the crowd.

Mini programmes

Mini programmes are an exciting development on WeChat. They are similar to apps but are often faster and typically take up less than 10MB. You can create a mini programme for all sorts of things, from banking, to locating shared bikes and booking medical appointments. However, one way that mini programmes have really taken off is in the realm of gamification. For example, when WeChat launched the game ‘jump, jump’ in December 2017, it gained 400 million users within the first three days. The use of games is a clever tactic used by brands to raise awareness and engage with their audiences.

WeChat mini programmes also offer interesting opportunities for the MICE industry. For example, WeChat’s ‘City Experiences’ brand provides audio guides to different cities around the globe, highlighting points of interest, attractions, hotels, tours and even making itinerary suggestions. These guides are available for cities including London, Dubai and Sydney, and WeChat are hoping to roll these out for all major tourist destinations around the world, with the support of the local tourism boards.

Emojis and stickers

In China, it’s not unusual to use emojis and stickers in messages with business contacts. They are commonly used as an easy and interactive way to quickly communicate a message and you’ll become accustomed to using them in no time.

WeChat pay

When buying items online in China, you can pay with WeChat Pay. You simply need to enter a passcode or use a biometric authentication tool to authorise the transaction. And, as long as you have a Chinese bank account that is linked to WeChat, you can use the app to pay for goods and services almost anywhere in China.

In many situations, there is no need for cash or a payment card; you can pay for groceries in major supermarkets, food from the smallest of street vendors and even taxis, just using WeChat from your smart device. You can also make instant money transfers to your contacts in WeChat using the messaging function. This can be used to split bills in restaurants or just move money within China.

In summary, China’s ‘super app’ WeChat is a powerful tool for accessing a vast number of potential customers across the APAC region. Its versatility offers a huge amount of potential for businesses, and exciting new ways for them to engage and interact with customers. Getting to know this app inside and out, and the ways in which people like to use it, is a crucial first step.

To find out more, download WeChat and follow IBTM_China.

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