Everything You Need to Know About WeChat

First posted: Mar 28, 2014
Last updated: Jun 22, 2021
Misha Maruma

WeChat logo

What is WeChat? It’s a question that clients often ask us at Nanjing Marketing Group. More specifically clients want to know how WeChat (wei xin 微信 in Chinese) can be used for marketing.

So that is the inspiration behind this blog. I want to give you a simple explanation of this very popular Chinese instant messaging (IM) app. I’ll look at some of the numbers behind WeChat, what it is primarily used for, the diverse ways it can be used and I’ll also look at its marketing potential.

WeChat by numbers
WeChat is created by Tencent a Chinese Internet company. Tencent has one other IM app, QQ, and also two social networks, Qzone and Tencent Weibo. All of these social platforms combined have over 2 billion active users. A lot of the same people have accounts on different platforms, but it just shows how dominant Tencent are.

In fact the latest figures released by Tencent show that in Q4 2013 WeChat had 355 million active monthly users reflecting the expansion of users outside of China.

A report from January 2014 suggested that WeChat had 100 million registered overseas users. The app is available in 15 languages helping to drive expansion outside of China.

It’s also interesting to note that there are 500 million mobile Internet users in China according to CNNIC and 600 million registered accounts. This suggests that every Chinese smartphone user has a WeChat account with the other 100 million accounts dotted around the world.

WeChat as a social platform
So what is WeChat used for? In a meeting with my colleagues recently I asked this exact question. Of the 15 people in the meeting 12 have WeChat on their smartphone. 10 of them said they used it everyday. But what for?

It is primarily an IM tool. People use it for talking to friends. There are various options to do this.

If you have a QQ account you can contact these friends via WeChat. The app also automatically connects contacts stored in your phone. For example if a phone contact joins WeChat you’ll receive a message asking if you want to connect.

You can also add people by their personalized WeChat ID. The user has an option to create an ID meaning that if they lose their phone or change phone number they can keep the same WeChat account.

Then there is the friend radar.

This is a brilliant feature and has more use than just being social. Friend radar lets you find people nearby using real-time location sharing. So instead of adding one contact at a time a number of people in a room can add multiple contacts at the same time.

In the example above I was able to add four new contacts in a matter of seconds. This feature would be brilliant for exchanging contact information with a number of people at a conference or trade show for example.

The most recent update of WeChat also let users connect their LinkedIn account to WeChat making the app into more professional territory. It means WeChat can move away from being simply a social IM tool and can be used for job hunting.

Then there is the WeChat newsfeed called “moments”.

This lets you share a moment in your day with all your contacts.

And finally from a social point of view you can do what one of my colleagues said, “add a selfie”! This is something that Chinese girls do best.

The average user might only use WeChat as they do Facebook. They can keep in contact with friends and family, share moments in their life and make new friends. But WeChat is so much more than this.

WeChat as a payment platform

The ‘My Bank Cards’ section lets you add your bank card details to WeChat. You can then use this to pay for products and services through your phone using Tencent’s Tenpay online payment service.

The services include mobile top up, a wealth section, ordering a taxi through your phone, buy movie tickets, split a bill, special deals exclusive to WeChat users on Tencent’s B2C online store, buying coins to play QQ games and giving friends and family ‘Hong Bao’.

Below I’ll look at some of these features in more detail.

WeChat’s taxi-hailing service, Didi Dache, lets you order a taxi and pay for the service all without leaving WeChat. Currently there is a discount if you pay through the payment app too. It’s also possible to buy movie tickets through the app.

WeChat set up its own online wealth management fund called Li Cai Tong (理财通). It’s similar to Alipay’s Yu’e Bao and is another feature that broadens WeChat’s appeal beyond the normal social features.

People can also send ‘Hong Bao’ or red packets. These gifts are traditionally given to youngsters at Chinese New Year. This way of giving cash gifts was done in record numbers during the previous Chinese New Year in February 2014.

The specials sections gives you access to decent reductions on products available from Tencent’s online B2C platform wanggou.com (website in Chinese). There are best buys, brands and other assortments as you browse the app looking for deals.

And then there is the sticker shop. You can purchase various emoticons and add these to your messages. This is mainly aimed at children, but gives a good insight into the diverse demographic that WeChat appeals to.

WeChat for marketing
So in what ways is WeChat interesting to a marketer?

Within WeChat you can follow public accounts that will periodically send you information. These accounts can be companies, brands, bars, nightclubs, hotels or publications.

There are two types of accounts you can follow: Service Accounts and Subscription Accounts.

The two types of account have differences in set up and usage. But from a marketing perspective they are a way to find brand advocates and to get information to people about your products and services.

Lets start with Service Accounts.

I have four service accounts on WeChat. There is a health club, a hotel, an Italian restaurant and a clothing retailer. I followed these accounts by scanning a QR code with the QR code scanner that is built into WeChat.

The Service Account for Gap is the most useful of all the Service Accounts I follow. But what can it actually do?

With a Service Account the owner can change the menu options at the bottom page to anything they want. In the case of Gap they have chosen three different tabs that a user can view: a frontline fashion tab, information about the Gap app and hot trends and a ‘my Gap’ tab.

The information available runs from new products, in-store offers, offers available to WeChat users, jobs at Gap and even a link to the Gap website. And this all opens within the WeChat app.

The Service Account for Ciao Italia, an Italian restaurant in Nanjing, has customized their menu in a totally different way.

They have four different menu options: take away, menu, book a table and store. You can browse the restaurant menu and see what is available before you book a table and dine in or get a take out.

The health club has three tabs. These are more to do with the service at the club: you can get in touch with the reps at your local club, have a look at their Sina Weibo account for up to date information and talk to someone to make a complaint!

The advantages of a Service Account are that you can customize the WeChat portal to your needs. The health club has pretty limited options compared to Gap, for example, who want to use the service for online to offline (O2O) purposes.

The disadvantage with the Service Account is that you can only send one message a week to your followers. But if the people following the account regularly check for offers etc. then this is not a problem.

The Subscription Account differs in that an owner can send one message to the followers of the account every 24 hours. The menu options are not customizable so the account suits a different need.

Subscription Accounts are much more prevalent than Service Accounts. The ones I follow range from local bars to national restaurants, from local music promoters to international tech publications.

The great thing with the Subscription Account is that when there is a new notification it shows within the app, but does pop up on your phone as a push notification.

You only get the notification when you login to the app. This way a follower is not disturbed at all hours and is in control of how and when they read their notifications.

The examples above are for a newspaper and blog that I follow. When you click on a headline the story opens within WeChat. The examples below are for a nightclub and a restaurant that I follow.

The great thing about Subscription Accounts is that they are a way to give your followers regular up to date information. For example a restaurant might let you know about daily specials. A blog can give you daily news to your phone.

A good example of WeChat being used for marketing is by Burberry, the British fashion label, during the company’s Autumn/Winter 2014 show. Users were able to get exclusive audio and video from designers and pictures and messages from celebrities.

As well as this by subscribing to the Burberry WeChat platform followers were able to get a customized plaque commemorating the show. This is all part of Burberry’s marketing drive into the Chinese market.

Nanjing Marketing Group also provides WeChat marketing services, so feel free to contact us.


WeChat as everything
WeChat has also diversified by moving into hardware. By partnering with firms who make the hardware WeChat are enabling users to use their platform for a multitude of things such as printing photos wirelessly and also using WeChat payment with a WeChat POS machine.

This all feeds into Tencent’s desired aim of bringing O2O services into mainstream use. WeChat users can use Tenpay through WeChat’s payment service on their phone using a QR code to make the payment. It allows businesses to use e-coupons, group-buying deals and online ordering.

There’s also talk that WeChat will be issuing E-credit cards that can be used through the WeChat portal. Again it will be a case of scanning a QR code to make payment through Tenpay.

The simple truth is that WeChat can be used for everything. It is constantly expanding and improving and giving users new reasons not to leave the app. For any company moving into the Chinese market I’d say it’s essential that they have an understanding of what WeChat is.

To really get your products and services recognized in China then it’s important to use WeChat for marketing. A Service or Subscription Account can really help to connect with your customers locally. It allows users to use WeChat to make payments, but benefit offline too.


Do you use WeChat? What do you use it for? Do you have any other questions about WeChat? Please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.


The comments on this article have been turned off
Misha Maruma


Can you tell us more about this? I'd love to find out some additional

Specifically what other information would you like to know?

Great read, Misha. I had no idea you can do this much with WeChat. It'll be interesting to see if it continues to gain popularity outside of China or not.

Thanks for the comment Devin. I'm sure that WeChat will continue to grow outside of China. There is a massive marketing drive to make sure that this happens.
Do you have a WeChat account?

I am not sure where you're getting your info,
but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or
understanding more. Thanks for magnificent information
I was looking for this info for my mission.

I got all this information from personal experience. I use WeChat daily so have a good idea of how it works.
Do you use WeChat? If not I'd suggest downloading it and giving it a try.

Great article, I've passed it on to some contacts and shared it on LinkedIn.

I've known about WeChat for a while now ( http://galesl.weebly.com/1/post/2012/04/tencent-weixin-wechat-the-best-t... ) but didn't get into then because I didn't have a smartphone yet.

Since then I've got a smartphone, but I've also had lots of problems accessing Tencent services (namely, my Tencent Weibo http://galesl.weebly.com/1/post/2013/12/got-back-access-to-tencent-weibo... ).

Despite all the problems logging into other Tencent services, I decided to give WeChat a try. It clearly states that you can log in using a Tencent QQ account number.

I input the QQ number associated with my Weibo and... it gave me a login error. So I e-mailed WeChat support and... two months later, still no reply!

In short, after the variety of problems I've experienced with Tencent services, I cannot trust or rely on English-language versions or support from Tencent, and my Chinese isn't good enough to use the Chinese language version or support.

I don't feel secure putting my time & effort into something that I might get locked out of at any moment (or other problems) and which I couldn't resolve through competent English-language support.

So I only mention WeChat to Chinese contacts and to non-Chinese who have access to a bilingual Chinese friend/co-worker/relative etc who can provide them with support. To anyone else, I say "Don't bother".

Hi, thanks for taking the time to comment. And thanks for sharing too!
I'd suggest that you start a new WeChat account. After you've done this then you can add your QQ contacts. That's how I did it and I've had no problems. Make sure you download the English language version.
I know what you mean re. Tencent, espcially using QQ on desktop and on my phone. There isn't an English language version so this can be frustrating.

is it possible to set the location in the nearby people elsewhere than where the phone actually is? what I mean by that is, for example can someone be chatting on the phone like 3 miles away to the west but when looking at nearby people it shows 6 miles to the east (this is actually happenining to me and one of my friends who I chat with). Her locations when she chats with me is 3 miles to the west and different than where she shows up in the nearby people 6 miles to the east (of course east and west doesn't show up in nearby but I have checked the locations by driving there). I hope my questions make sense but it's been a mystery to me as how that is even possible. Any help would be great, thanks.

 Hi. I'm not sure about this problem to be honest with you. I've never heard anyone else have this problem. 
Have you tried using the 'real-time location' function. When you send someone your location on a map you can select this function and it shows you exactly where they are in relation to you. You can use the walkie talkie to speak to them at the same time.
It's a really cool function, you should try it out. It may also help to solve your east/west problem too.
Let me know how it works out.

I've just started using WeChat and I'm impressed. I cannot beleive very few people in the UK are using it. Me and my wife use it for chatting with Chinese friends in the UK and China. It has also saved us a small fortune in international phone calls.

Gary, I couldn't agree with you more. For me, WeChat is the ultimate mobile app. It can do all the basics, but is constantly developing and improving. It's becoming really useful for e-commerce too.
Tencent have made a concerted effort to expand WeChat into the US, but I've not heard about them pushing into the UK as hard. I guess if people start to use it and realise its potential then it will become more widely used.
Can I ask, how did you hear about WeChat and what made you start using it?

Hi, Misha, Two months back I noticed LinedIn allows you to add your WeChat details in the contact area.

So I think the company is pushing WeChat more. My aim is to get my mum who is in her 70's using it because its easier to use than text and makes call costs cheap/free depending where you especially for me when I'm working in China.

Yes, I noticed the LinkedIn connection too. I have it connected to my WeChat account.
I got into WeChat in 2012 and it has improved so much since then. I've tried to get my family into it (we all live in different countries from the UK to Australia to New Zealand to Switzerland to China), but Whatsapp is still our main method of communication using the groups. I've convinced a few friends in Hong Kong to join and a few friends who have left China to return to the States still use WeChat occasionally.
The only problem as I see it is that the best new improvments are rolled out to the Chinese version first. Sometimes the foreign language versions don't get the new features at all.
It'd be great if your mum gets using WeChat. I'll try harder to convince my family from now on too!

I spoke to my mum last night and she is getting the hang of it

Great article!

Do you know how much WeChat charges of opening a service/subscription account? I noticed a lot of these brand accounts have special functions such as games and contests. Do you know if brands have to pay a fee to have these special features?


Hi Ting Ting. 
I've been looking for this information for you. When I have the full information I'll reply again. I hope you don't mind waiting.

Have you found this out yet?

Hi, I'm still gathering this information. I hope to give you and Ting Ting a reply by the end of the week. Thanks for your patience. 

Hi Ting Ting
Sorry for the delay getting this information to you. There is no charge to open a service or subscription account on WeChat. However, if you want to verify the account then you'll have to pay 300rmb.
If you set up a service account you can customise the menu options and add some extra features such as contests. 
I hope this was useful. For a full explanation of the account set up process please visit the blog.

Hi, I have many Chinese friends on wechat, or, weixin, as they call it. I am going to Shanghai later this year, so my question is, can I just carry on chatting to my friends, or do I have to change anything?

Thank you in advance,

Hi Peter
I assume you have WeChat already? You can use the app to chat to your friends no matter where you are as long as you can connect to the internet. There is nothing you have to change at all.
What do you think of WeChat in general?

I love wechat. I chat to my Chinese friends every day of the week, and it costs me nothing.

That's great. When you go to Shanghai you don't have to change anything.
One thing I would suggest is that you save your own personal WeChat ID. This way if you lose your phone you can always log back into the same WeChat account rather than starting a new one. It also makes it easier to share your details with people.

Thank you for this! Very helpful. I am trying to set up wechat service account for a client. I am in marketing. Can I do this on my computer or does it have to be done through the client's phone? How can you set up wechat through a desktop?

I would love your guidance!

Thanks again.

Hi, thanks for getting in touch. 
As far as I'm aware WeChat is mobile only. But it can be used on a tablet. This might make it easier to navigate around when setting up the service account. But ultimately it is a mobile-only application.
I hope this was useful and good luck with helping your client get their service account up and running.

Thank you! How do you set up a verified account?

Hi, I'm currently gathering this information for a blog post. This will be on the blog next week. Please come back to find this information. When it is ready I'll also let you know. 
Thanks for your patience.

Fantastic. And thanks for the letting me know when it is up!

Hi there
I've managed to find the information that you were looking for. Although WeChat is a mobile only application you must use a desktop browser to set up a service or subscription account. So, you can set up your client's account from your computer. You can also use the computer to control the account ie send out messages. You can also do this from a phone as long as it's Android OS.
To verify the account for your client first you must have 500 followers. The cost to verify the account is 300rmb. You also have to have a set of specific paperwork. Once you have all this you can finish the account verification.
For a comprehensive explanation please visit our blog. I have written a post which covers all of this information in detail.

Why is one of my contact's chatbox blue instead of white? Does it mean that that person deleted me off his contact list?

Hi Alynn
I've never heard of this before. Can you click through to the messages in that chatbox? Have you asked your friend if they deleted you from their contact list? 
If I find out any information about this I'll be sure to let you know.

Can any one advise please :=

1) My wechats was serving me great until I have upgraded the hardware of my phone where it has always disconnected. I have to uninstall and install the APP over and over again. I have wrote to the Help Desks. But unfortunately no reply from them at all. I am not sure why it happens.

2) What is the best way to get connected at all time.


Hi DY. Can I ask:
What phone do you use?
What OS is on the phone and what version is it?
With this information you should be able to do some troubleshooting and hopefully find a solution.

Hi Misha,

I am sorry for the late reply.

I am using HTC One operating on Android 4.4.2. Please help.

Thanks again.

Have you tried updating WeChat now? Once you update the WeChat app it should work.

Hi there,

I have created a QQ ID and trying to login to the wechat on the android phone.
It is not succeed. it keeps saying error on the wechat id etc.

I thought i can using QQ Id to login wechat without any set up.

Please help.

Hi there
I think what you need to do is create a WeChat ID to set up a WeChat account. I don't believe you can use a QQ ID to log into WeChat. However, once you have a WeChat account you can then import your QQ contacts to your WeChat account.
I hope this is useful. Let me know how you get on.

Hi.. Friend radar in my wechat is keepon running but i can't find anyone.. Pls help regarding in this issue asap

Hi Raghav
The Friend Radar only works when other people have their Friend Radar turned on. If you are the only person with it switched on then you won't find anyone.
The point of the Friend Radar is to connect with lots of people at the same time, for example at a party. The Friend Radar does not find random people to connect with. So, if you are meeting lots of new people who have WeChat you can all turn on your Friend Radar and add each other at the same time, rather than connecting with everyone one at a time.
I hope this is helpful to you.

Then what happen to people nearby... That is also not available.. Then how can i find someone in my nearby..

Hi there. The 'People Nearby' function is different to the 'Friend Radar'. 
If you are using the English language version you need to go to the 'discover' tab. There you can find People Nearby. It's between 'Shake' and 'Drift Bottle'.
Hope this helps.

Its not there.... That's y i am keep on disturbing u...

What phone do you use? And have you updated your software?
I use iPhone. 

hi i jhave 2 wechat and i have forgotten my password, i was in China and i had to create a Wechat there, when i got back to Australia iwanted to log in but i forgot my password and it said i had to use my chinese number to restart my password, does anyone know how to re start a password without a linked email adress and without a number?
thank you

Hi Jone.
Did you save your own personal WeChat ID when you set up your accounts? If you did this then you can log into your account from any phone using the ID and password. The idea is so that you don't lose your account if you lose your phone.
If you didn't do this then you might have to set up another account with another phone number I'm afraid.

i have a wechat id but it is my chinese pjhone number, does that count? i just want one contact of it, so is it possible for me to go into a friends list on wechat?

If you have a WeChat ID you can login from another phone as long as you have the password. The WeChat account should let you login, but if you don't have the password and you can't get a password reminder to the original Chinese number you used to set up the account then there is nothing you can do I'm afraid. 

hello plz help me am not able to log in to my wechat acc it always shows logged in frm other location.

Hi Bhaskar. I've not heard of this problem before. Can you give me some more details.