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

Comments

mam whenever i log in to my wechat id it always shows your id is logged in from else where. Wht shall i do?

Hi there
 
Where are you based? Have you recently left China and not changed the phone number linked to the account? I need more information so that I can help you out.

This will make you laugh. We have only just found out that WeChat has two way video. This has made a big change to the way I normally do thing.

Haha, yes WeChat keep on adding more to the platform. Pretty much every week something new appears after an update. Sometimes it's difficult to keep up.

Sorry it is not connected to WeChat but as you are very knowledgably in media. Is there a way of connecting to Facebook and Twitter in China because it becomes very hard for me to run my advertising and keep contact with family and friends back in the UK when I travel to China.

Many thanks Gary.

Yes there is Gary. You need to download a proxy or VPN. This will allow you to evade the Great Firewall and use Google, Facebook, Twitter, anything that is blocked in China.
 
There are free versions of these products out there, but I use a paid version which I can use on my tablet, mobile and laptop.
 
Basically I wouldn't be able to do my job without using a VPN.

Hi !
please help me to retrieve my we chat account . My user I'd is liz_ retardo. I have forgotten my password and I have lost my mobile .my friends are all there.
My we chat is still keep on running coz if someone message or call me I still received notifications but I can't open it.

Hi Liz
I don't know how I can help you with this problem. You may have to contact WeChat directly.
 

Hi Misha,

I have a problem with my "People nearby" function on Wechat. When I chek-in, I can see people around me, but others cannot see me (I have done several experiments with my friends - nobody can see me, even though I see both my friends and strangers around me via "People nearby"). I doubled check my Location services, they are on. I also don't have any Privacy restrictions set (at least not that I know about).

I use iPhone 4s, iOS 6.0, Wechat version 5.3.1.

Do you have an idea what the problem could be?

Hi Mit
I've not heard of this problem before. I'd suggest you check your settings in WeChat and not the settings of your phone. Go to Me/Settings/Privacy and check that people are able to find your WeChat. You may have something turned off in the privacy settings which means people can't find you.

Hi. How to add friends on Wechat??

Hi Denise
The easiest way to add contacts is to go the the contacts tab in WeChat. In the contacts tab at the top right corner is 'add contacts'. Here you can add contacts by WeChat ID, QQ contacts, Mobile contacts, Official accounts, Friend Radar and Private Groups.
 
I hope this helps.

Hello! Thankyou! That really kind of helped me :)

You're welcome Denise.

Hello there. I have a question about changing phone number. Everytime i tried to change my number, it always shows a pop up that told me to enable unlink function. How to solve this problem?

Hi Apit
 
Did you set a WeChat ID after you first set up your personal account? If so it doesn't matter what your phone number is. You can use your WeChat ID to login to your personal account from any mobile phone.
 
If you haven't set up a WeChat ID then you will need the same phone number to login to your old personal account. Or set up a new personal account with your new number.
 
I hope this helps.

If, someone use my old number, can he/she set up new account for wechat on the same number as mine?

You need the phone number to get a verification code. So therefore if you change number, but have not personalised your WeChat account (by setting up your own WeChat ID, adding an email, adding a password) then you wil lose that account. If then someone has your old number they can then use that number to set up their own WeChat account.
 
WeChat accounts are not directly related to mobile numbers, although you need a number initially to set up a personal account.

hey you know how to safe friend moment photo?

Hi there
 
I'm not exactly sure what you mean. If you give me some more details I'll try and help you out.

Hiya Misha,

Great article! You're really comprehensive. I'm not sure if you're still monitoring the comments for this article, but I've come across a problem that I reckon many other people might encounter, given how mobile we are around the world.

I went to China on exchange last year and subsequently created a Wechat account using my Chinese number (I also created a Wechat ID, for flexibility with phone use). After returning home, I forgot to change my Chinese number in the account details, thinking that since I had my Wechat ID everything would be okay.

And it was, until China Mobile gave my number to someone else, and they tried to connect to Wechat. Now all of my contacts/chat history has been deleted, and the profile pic is of someone else. Which is okay, I mean, my fault for not changing my details, I'll just create another account, right? Well, it turns out that when I was trying to understand what had happened in the first place, I'd replaced the old number with my current number (not a Chinese number!), thinking that Wechat would sort itself out. That's what the Wechat team told me to do (in a computer generated message, it seems). So now some poor guy in China probably can't log into Wechat because I've gone in and messed up the account (which used to be mine), and I can't make a new account with my current phone number because it's linked to the old account, which isn't mine anymore (apparently).

What a mess!

I've tried contacting Wechat support, and also texting my old number to see if we can sort out this problem between us, but neither have brought any results. Could you please share your insights on this?

Thanks for you time! And keep up the excellent work :)

Hi there
 
This situation does indeed sound like a mess! It's maybe a good idea to 'unlink' the number once you've got your WeChat account up and running. I'd also advise adding an email address and password to the account. There is also an option in the WeChat settings to turn on 'account protection'. This then requires SMS verification before new devices can login to your account. There are a number of options to look after your account depending on what your plans are.
 
With your particular problem, can't you just start again? Forget about the old account and just use a new phone number where ever you are to get a new WeChat account. I guess that means you'll have to change your current non-Chinese number not linked to the account.
 
As I see it a lot of these problems have risen from people opening an account in China and then moving abroad and wanting to carry on using the service (without realising it's best to unlink the Chinese number). It looks as if WeChat is trying to resolve these problems by adding new features to the settings to protect the account in other ways.
 
Hopefully you manage to resolve your problems and are able to start using WeChat again soon.

Hi, keep popping out the used up friend verification screen. is there a way to avoid this?

Hi Jaboy
 
I'm not clear what you mean. Can you give me more details so I can work out what the problem is?

Hi Misha,

Fantastic article!

I'm having a not so normal problem with my wechat. I know all my login and password information, but I can't actually use wechat due to account protection.

After I successfully put in my password and login it asks me for a 3 step verification. 1) sign into my qq, Done no problems. 2) remember my old phone number, Done no problem. 3) get my contacts to send me a code, problem here for me is that the people showing up on that list are people I no longer talk to or have contact with anymore as I live in a different country now. Thus I can't complete the process and do not have access even though I know my login.

I'm not sure why or how this started because I do know my password and login info.

Please let me know of any solution. Thanks!

Hi Joe
 
This sounds like a strange problem. I can't understand why WeChat would ask you to get a verification from your contacts. Do you need a code from all your contacts or just one?
 
The only thing I can think is if you are locked out of your account is to start again. It's easy enough to get your contacts back. There are a number of ways to do this, so all is not lost. It's a little inconvenient, but it may be the only solution in this case.
 
Let me know how you get on.

Hi Misha,

Thank you for the help. Yes I just need one contact to send me a code, but the 8 people they allowed me to select from, I do not have any other contact than wechat with them.

I have no problem starting a new account, but I don't want to lose some of my contacts as wechat is the only contact I have for some of them. Any suggestions on how I can keep the contacts while opening a new account?

Funny knowing the login and password yet still unable to use the account.

Hi Joe
 
I'll keep a look out for more information about this problem as I've never heard about it before. 
 
To make sure you don't lose your contacts you can check the WeChat ID of the contacts you want to keep and make a note of it. Then when you have your new account you search the WeChat ID. Of course you can also add contacts saved on your phone and QQ contacts.
 
I hope this helps.

Hi
Pls help me, how to delete contacts from wechat? I use android moblile 4.4... sory for bad english

Hi Khuzaim
 
The easiest way to delete contacts is to go to their profile and in the top left corner is a settings menu. At the bottom of that menu is a 'delete' button. This will delete the contact from your WeChat contact list.
 
I hope this helps.

please help me when i try to logged in
he said you id is open else where...
What can i do for my id....

Hi there
 
Can you give me some more information about your problem. Do you mean your WeChat ID? 

Hai misha..
I was wondering if i sent text to some one that offline, how long the text will be kept until that person online back and receive my text?
Tq misha..

Hi Atiq
 
I believe that if you send a message it will be received as soon as the person has an internet connection.

Can people see a message that are sent but u didn't add them?

Hi there
 
I'm not quite clear what you mean. When you add a new person, you can send a message when you send the invite so that they know who you are. They are able to read this message of course. Is this what you mean?

Hi I just wanted to know why some of my contacts have a blue icon & some have an orange icon , What does this mean ? Thanks

Hi there
 
Do you mean the icon next to the contact name? If the icon is blue that person has selected male in the settings. If it is oragne the person has selected female.

Hi i just wanted to ask what the Blue & Orange Icons means beside my contacts mean ? Thanks

If the icon next to a contact name is blue it means they are male. If the icon is orange it means they are female.

hi, without having We chat App in our fon, is that possible to get any notification from wechat?

Hi there
 
If you don't have WeChat on your mobile phone then you can't get notifications from WeChat. Unlike Facebook, WeChat cannot give you email notifications.

Hi I am facing problem during change my profile picture... It is always telling unable to upload your profile picture... Why. I need help...

Hi Pkshelar
 
Have you tried different photos? Maybe the file you want to use isn't supported by WeChat. What is the file type?

I have the same problem too! I tried many pictures but still unable to upload the picture :S But I used to upload my picture in the same way.

Hi Yin
 
Have you updated WeChat with the latest version? Check your app store to see if there are any bugs that an updated version will fix. Let me know how you get on.

can i edit my old moments?

Hi there
 
Yes you can edit your old moments. Go to the 'me' tab. Here you can find 'My posts'. If you click on an old post you can do a range of things to it by using the menu in the top left corner. You can 'set as private', 'send to chat', 'favourite', 'save to phone' and 'delete'.
 
I hope this helps

Hye,

If I uninstall wechat how does my friend list see my account?
Because if I uninstall it and my picture and my account is still in their list im afraid if the text or msg me, I didnt reply will create misunderstanding, where by I already uninstall and will not receive any text msgs.

Is it if i Uninstall wechat my profile will also automatically removed from their list?
Reason for uninstall - because social media like IG and so on increase my data bundle and it cost me extra payment for my phone bills thats why i need to delete most of my social medias

2) If I reinstall does my moments and chat history will be restored?

Thank u. Please reply to my email so i cud recive ur reply

Hi Tasya
 
Are you talking about uninstalling the WeChat app on your phone or deleting your account? If you just uninstall the app on your phone to make space then your moments and chat history will be saved when you reinstall the app. If you delete the account then you will lose all the information.
 
With regards friends sending you messages after you uninstall, they can still see your profile as it will still exist. If you delete your WeChat account then they won't be able to send you messages.