The 2021 Guide to WeChat Official Account Setup

Fri, 12/25/2020 - 04:18
Author:

With over a billion users, WeChat is the most popular social platform in China.

If you want to get your brand on WeChat, you’ll need to go through a setup process that is more in-depth than the average Western social platform. 

There are a few things about the setup that you should decide ahead of time; otherwise, you could run into big problems later.

We’ve helped Western businesses set up many WeChat accounts, so we’ll share our advice with you here.

What you’ll learn in this guide:

  1. What is a WeChat Official Account?

  2. Should You Use a Service or Subscription Account?

  3. How to Set Up a WeChat Official Account

    1. Limitations for Foreign Accounts

    2. Should You Co-operate With a Chinese Business?

    3. Who Should Operate Your Account?

    4. Setup Steps

  4. FAQ

 

What is a WeChat Official Account?

An Official Account (OA) is different from a personal account. It should be one of the key hubs for your brand in China, with the other hubs being a website or an e-commerce store.

With an OA, people can follow you, and you can post articles and create a mini-website within WeChat. You can even create mini-programs that function like apps, accept payments, provide customer support, and more.

To Chinese fans, your WeChat OA really is official in their eyes. If you don’t have one, they’ll probably think you aren’t serious about doing business in China yet. In other words, having the WeChat OA makes your China presence official.

 

Should You Use a Service or Subscription Account?

There are two main types of OAs: “service” and “subscription”.

Most businesses will want a service account (服务号) because it has stronger functionality and allows your posts to show up in the users’ main chat feed. This makes it more prominent and helps increase the open rates for your articles. With a service account, you can publish up to four posts per month, with each post containing up to eight articles.

Subscription accounts (订阅号) were made with media organizations in mind and they have one key strength—they can publish one post per day containing up to eight articles. Users can find the posts from all the subscription accounts they follow within the subscription folder. This means the content those accounts publish is an extra click away and mixed in with other providers’ content. Overall, we’ve found it common for Chinese users to follow up to 100 subscription accounts.

If this sounds a bit confusing, check out a 5-minute video here, where I show the two different account types in action on my phone.

 

 

The table below shows the functions of verified service and subscription accounts in more detail.




Function

Subscription Account

Service Account

Posts show up directly in the chat feed

 

Yes

Posts show up in the subscriptions folder

Yes

 

Can post daily?

Yes

No (Only 4/month)

Can receive and respond to messages from followers?

Yes

Yes

Customizable menus

Yes

Yes

WeChat Pay

No

Yes

Custom QR codes

No

Yes

Can be setup under non-Chinese business entities

No

Yes

Can be setup under non-Chinese schools

No

No

 

How To Set Up a WeChat Official Account

The good news is that you will likely be able to set up an OA directly with Tencent (the company that owns WeChat), and it’s only 99 USD.

The bad news: If you set up under your non-Chinese business entity, you’ll face several limitations.

It takes us about 3–5 working days to set up and verify the account. However, it can take a lot longer if anything is out of order, and we’ve heard stories of it taking up to three months to finish the process. 

To make it easier for you, I’m including the basics steps here and all the extra considerations that will help you get through the process error-free and more quickly.

 

Limitations for Foreign Accounts

Limitations for Foreign WeChat Accounts:

  1. You will not be able to transfer the account to another business at a later time.

  2. Usually cannot use WeChat Pay to accept payments.

  3. The minimum initial ad spend is 50,000 Chinese Yuan, rather than 5,000.

  4. They don’t support page templates, which is a way of organizing articles to make it easier for users to navigate. You can see a templated page in the image below. See a 2-minute video here for more info..

  1. You won’t be able to protect your content from being copied by others.

  2. Foreign accounts are sometimes not allowed to use certain words in their WeChat account names, such as “大学” (university), and “酒店” (hotel).

With all those limitations in mind, it’s always better to use your Chinese business entity (providing you have one). However, setting up a business in China can be a big hassle!

We can’t say what will happen in the future. Foreign WeChat accounts used to have even fewer features, but the functionality has improved of late. Years ago, it was impossible for foreign businesses to even create an OA on their own.

 

Should You Cooperate With a Chinese Business?

If the limitations above are too strict for you and don’t have a Chinese business, what should you do?

One option is to have a Chinese business entity do it on your behalf. We have done this for clients of ours.

If you take this route, the key thing you want is trust

I’m lucky to have Chinese friends, business contacts, and even family. If you’re the same, you could consider having somebody close to you help out.

Otherwise, you need to be aware of the risks:

  1. What if the business you work with goes out of business?

  2. What if the business you work with isn’t who you think it is? Do a search on qichacha.com to find their business info. Here’s ours.

  3. What if their business is fine but they just suddenly ramp up the renewal fees?

  4. Also, what about the risk of doing business with you? If you post something illegal, they could get in trouble.

 

Who Should Operate Your Account?

This is something else you should plan upfront. 

The person or people that manage your account will need to have their own WeChat personal account, and it must be associated with their Chinese bank account and ID. 

Basically, your operator needs to be a mainland Chinese national; however, they don't need to be related to you or your company in any particular way. The operator doesn’t need to be related to you or your company in any particular way.

 

Setup Steps

Step 1 - Prepare the documents

  1. Business license (digital scan).

  2. Introductory paragraph (in Chinese).

  3. Chinese trademark registration certificate (if you have one).

  4. Bank account number.

  5. The handler’s ID or passport (front and back). This is for the person handling the verification process, so it can be a foreigner or a Chinese citizen.

  6. Three months of mobile phone bills for the handler.

  7. Company’s legal person’s business card. (“Legal person” (法人) means the person who has the authority to sign contracts.)

  8. Company’s legal person’s ID or passport (front and back). This is for confirming the legal person’s information.

 

Step 2 - Prepare an email account

Set up an email account that you’ll use to log into the OA. If you’re working with a team in China, or another company, keep in mind that you will probably want an account that they can all access. 

It doesn’t need to be an email from your official business domain. A public email from qq.com will be fine. Remember that if your Chinese team doesn’t use VPNs, they won’t be able to access Gmail. However, email addresses on Outlook.com currently work fine. 

 

Step 3 - Think of some account names

You should submit up to three account names for consideration, in order of priority.

In most cases, you’ll probably want to use your business name.

Name requirements:

  1. Between 2–15 Chinese characters. If you are using English letters, each letter takes up half of the space of a Chinese character.

  2. The name can be composed of Chinese characters, English letters, some special symbols, and spaces.

  3. Spaces cannot be at the beginning, or the end of the name, and you cannot use multiple spaces in a row.

  4. You cannot use a name already in use by another WeChat account. Unless, you have the trademark (in mainland China) for that name, in which case you can file a complaint.

 

Step 4 - Think of a WeChat account ID

The WeChat ID will only be your visible account’s about page, but you might want to share it elsewhere to help users find your WeChat account.

It can only be written in English letters, numbers, hyphens, and underscores.

Choose something short and easy to remember. Keep in mind that while a long English word might be easy for you to remember, it might still be tough for a non-native speaker. 

 

Step 5 - Complete the online application process

Go to mp.weixin.qq.com to begin the process. This part is pretty straightforward.

Near the end, you will need to make a payment via WeChat Pay.

 

Step 6 - Confirm and start verification

After a few days (for Chinese businesses) or a couple of weeks (for foreign businesses), a Tencent staff member will call to confirm whether or not the account name can be used. 

If there are no problems with the application, they’ll verify it by either:

  1. Transferring a very small amount of money (under 1 RMB) to your bank account. You will then let them know how much you received by sharing a photo/screenshot of the deposit info.

  2. Sending an email to an email address on the domain of your official website. Respond to them to verify.

 

Step 7 - Wait again

They will get back to you within another couple of days to let you know that the account has been verified.

It used to be possible to set up an account without verifying it, but as of 2021, all new accounts will need to be verified.

 

Step 8 - Configure admin rights

After you have your account set up and verified, you’ll want to assign operational privileges.

If you signed up with a Chinese business, you need at least one person to be the “admin” and the “operator” for the account. You can choose to add more (or remove) operators, but there can be only one admin. The admin and operators must

  • be Chinese nationals, 

  • have WeChat accounts, and 

  • have their Chinese bank account linked to their WeChat account.

If you signed up with a foreign business, you don’t need to have admin and operators nominated in this way. Just as Chinese businesses do, you can access the account in a browser by filling in a login name and password and choosing to add an admin and operator(s).

 

FAQ

 

  1. If needed, how easy is it to change the company name of a WeChat account?
    Changing the name (not ID) is fairly easy. Whenever you change it, limitations will still apply. There is currently a 99 USD fee for foreign companies to update the name.

  2. What’s the difference between a personal account and an OA?
    They’re totally different things. A personal account is just for individuals, and it cannot be changed into an OA either. Everybody you will meet in China will have a personal WeChat account.

  3. Can we use a foreigner as the account administrator if that foreigner has a Chinese bank account?
    No. There are some sources that say it’s possible, but we tried and were unsuccessful.

  4. Can we change our WeChat ID?
    The ID can only be changed once a year.

  5. My company’s name is taken. What can I do?
    If you have trademarked your name, you can file a complaint to make it so the other account cannot use their name, and then you can claim it for yourself. This can be done via Tencent and is not usually an overly complicated process.

  6. How can I choose a good WeChat account name?
    If possible, use the Chinese-language name of your business. Check out this post to learn more.
    Sometimes you won’t be able to use your company name though. In those cases, you can use something similar, or something short and descriptive that explains what you do.

  7. We don’t want to follow the rules of China or Tencent exactly. Can we get around them?
    No.

  8. We’re a foreign agency with a foreign client that wants an OA. Can we sign them up with our foreign business license?
    No. Foreign companies can only sign up directly or by using a Chinese business as a proxy. However, foreign companies cannot use other foreign businesses as a proxy.

  9. How do we sign up for a mini-program (mini-app)?
    There are two ways to do it. 

    1. If you already have a verified service account or subscription account, then apply for access to create a mini-program.

    2. You could also directly apply for a mini-program. But you’ll want to link it to an OA later anyway, so we don’t recommend this option.
      Note that companies in some industries will not be allowed to create a mini-program. This page (in Chinese) has an up-to-date list.

  10. Can we transfer an OA from one business to another?
    You can only transfer account ownership from one Chinese business to another. You cannot transfer to (or from) a foreign business.

  11. Can we create both a service account and a subscription account?
    Yes. You’ll end up having fans that are following just one or both, so we don’t normally recommend it.
    It does make sense for accounts that want to have the full functionality of both accounts to make more frequent posts.

  12. Do we need to be able to speak Chinese to set up or manage the account?
    Basically, yes. Some of WeChat’s interfaces are available in English, but you’ll bump into some steps that certainly require Chinese.

  13. Are accounts set up by foreign companies visible to Chinese users?
    Yes. The reason you may have heard that foreign-owned accounts weren’t visible to Chinese users is because this used to be the case. 

  14. Is it possible to switch an account type from subscription to service or vice-versa?
    There isn’t a function like that, but you might be able to achieve it by migrating the account.

  15. Is an “enterprise” account better than a service account?
    Enterprise Accounts (企业号) are a different thing. They are for internal company communication. Think of them as being a Chinese alternative to Slack or Microsoft Teams in China.
    If you need one, you would set it up separately.

  16. What about “personal” OAs?
    It is possible for Chinese individuals to set up OAs. We usually don’t recommend this for companies we work with because 1) there’s no special benefit to using an individual instead of a business account, 2) it lacks some functions, such as customer support, and 3) it may lead to transfer/ownership problems down the line. Basically, you should probably only use that personal OA if you are the person using it.

 

Author: