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10 FAQs on WeChat for Marketers

  |  October 16, 2012   |  Comments   |  

Should marketers open a WeChat account for their brand?

WeChat is definitely the next big thing in digital media. If you have traveled to China recently, you might have noticed two things.

First, some locals use their smartphones differently (they hold their phones horizontally and speak through the bottom of the phones).

Second, you might also see there are more QR codes than ever appearing on various promotional materials, either on print, in-store, or outdoor billboards. All of them desperately ask you to scan them and add the company's WeChat account on your smartphone.

International and local brands are all flooding into the WeChat frenzy.

Recently, I gave a sharing session about the WeChat phenomenon at HKSocial, a monthly meet-up event for the social media enthusiasts in Hong Kong. I had some really good discussions with the participants at the session and summarized 10 of the FAQs received as follow.

1. Is WeChat just like Whatsapp?

Basically, WeChat covers all functions that Whatspp has. You can text free short messages with an individual or with groups via your smartphone.

2. Is WeChat similar to Line then? 

In fact, WeChat and Line have more similar functions than that of Whatsapp.

For example:

  • Manga style emoticons to express your feeling to your friends in an animated way.
  • A hybrid of Path and Instagram feature named Timeline (Line) and Moments (WeChat).
  • "Shake" to add a friend who is also shaking around you.
  • In-app QR scanner makes all mobile activations much friendlier.
  • API for third-party apps or website integration.
  • Push-to-talk/hold-to-talk: the widely welcomed walkie-talkie function for users who prefer to leave a quick instant voice message rather than text. This is the reason you see people whisper through the bottom of their phones.

However, aesthetically, I think Line's user interface is still ahead of WeChat.

 3. Is WeChat a clone of Line?

Sort of, just that WeChat has a couple of additional features (not first in the market though) that set its competitors apart. And now Line is actually getting more similar to WeChat.

  • Look around: a feature that allows you to literally fetch "new friends" nearby including those who are not on your friends list (so parents, be careful if you have given your teenage daughter a smartphone to play WeChat).
  • Drift a message bottle: you can throw and randomly pick a message bottle from the virtual ocean. I saw a local bank in China use this function as a tactic for its charity promotion.
  • Voice/video Internet call: a hybrid of Viber, Skype, and FaceTime.

4.Why is WeChat growing faster than Line?

On September 8, Line announced that it had already reached 60 million users. Three days later, WeChat claimed that it just topped at 200 million.

Tencent, the largest Internet company in China, is the parent company behind WeChat. The mobile app leverages on converting users from its large user base QQ, which is virtually equivalent to one's online identity in China. A close source from Tencent told me that the firm is considering WeChat as the next QQ. And its vision is even more ambitious because it is not just focusing on China, but the rest of the smartphone world.

5. What languages and mobile platforms do WeChat support?

WeChat supports 15 languages. Besides Simplified and Traditional Chinese, the interface is also in Arabic, English, Hindi, Malay, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and more. Currently all four major mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows, Symbian) are covered (the fifth one BlackBerry is coming soon). You can tell how aggressive its growth strategy is.

6. Can I also access WeChat through my computer?

Yes, you can still do basic text messaging and file transfer functions through the web version of WeChat. Just use your WeChat mobile app to scan the QR code from the following link, then your account will be connected. WeChat also provides a web-based admin tool for marketers to manage their account.

7. Should marketers quickly jump into WeChat?

Unless you have additional in-house resources and extra bandwidth from your agency, I would suggest you test drive it personally before opening an account for your brand. Every new social network channel for brands is a new investment. The platforms might be free but the resources you have to pour into are not.

8. What's the key challenge for marketers?

The key challenge for brands to manage a WeChat account is how you can continue to provide value to attract and retain your customers. In the world of WeChat, even if you are Lady Gaga, you no longer have the advantage of standing on the top of millions of followers and having them spread the gospel for you. Every individual is virtually talking to each other on equal terms.

9. Should I synchronize my brand's Weibo content with WeChat?

Bad idea. WeChat is not the place for broadcasting marketing messages unless you can provide true value to the users. Forget about creating content for the sake of attracting eyeballs. Providing true value is more important. Think from the perspective of a one-to-one, SMS, and CRM marketing strategy.

Once a user has added your account, the chance of receiving your message is 100 percent. Therefore, your users will have much less tolerance in receiving your marketing messages like the ways on other social media platforms. How often do you want to receive a marketing message on your mobile? I bet most people won't keep more than 10 brands (or even less) on their WeChat.

10. Would you consider WeChat a social network service?

WeChat is more like a fancy version of QQ on mobile. The core function is still about one-to-one chat or group chat, text, or voice. Features such as Moments are more like Path, which is a narrow way to socialize with selective friends. After all, WeChat lacks the many-to-many nature that the other popular SNS have. The social attribute of WeChat is very different from other mainstream social networks.

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Rudi Leung

Rudi Leung is general manager, director of digital and social at Tribal DDB/ DDB Group Hong Kong and Guangzhou. He was formerly director of communication planning at AGENDA, an interactive agency network under the WPP/Wunderman group in Asia. He is also an exco member of Hong Kong Association of Interactive Marketing. Rudi previously held roles as VP of Carat Media Services, creative ambassador of Yahoo HK Media Services, and creative director of TBWA\Tequila\HK. In addition to his extensive experience as a creative director and copywriter in numerous leading 4As ad agencies including Ogilvy & Mather, Leo Burnett, and Bates, he has gained wide exposure in advertising for numerous MNC and local advertisers in the last 18 years. Besides advertising, Rudi is a part-time lecturer of HKU Space since 2007. In his leisure, Rudi is an active blogger and columnist of ClickZ, e-Zone, HK Economic Journal, and MetroPop Weekly. He holds an MBA from Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Graduate Diploma in Business Administration from UC Berkeley Extension, and Bachelor of Arts in Music from Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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