HOW TO GET A WECHAT BUSINESS ACCOUNT FROM OUTSIDE OF CHINA
WeChat is by far and away the most important social media platform for any brand that wants to target a Chinese audience. With over 1 billion accounts, 902 million daily users and 38 billion messages sent every day, it is the biggest, most engaged social platform in China. Previous articles have covered why WeChat is a crucial platform and an amazing steppingstone for international businesses to launch a Chinese digital strategy. In this article, you will learn the exactly how to get a WeChat account.
First things first, is working out what kind of WeChat account you need, as they each have different processes.
TYPES OF WECHAT ACCOUNTS
The two main categories of WeChat accounts are Personal and Business, known in WeChat lingo as Official. Within Official accounts, you have a Subscription Account and a Service Account. To further differentiate, accounts owned by International businesses are different again.
Traditionally, international companies can get an Official WeChat account, but content is restricted to users outside of China only. In recent years, Tencent (the owner of WeChat) has gradually introduced a process where an international company can apply for an Official account and be verified, or whitelisted, to allow them to use the full functionality of WeChat and be seen by Chinese users.
Here, we will break down each of the types of accounts available to international businesses, the pros, and cons, and how to get them:
PERSONAL WECHAT ACCOUNT
Official WeChat Account – Companies with Chinese Licenses
Official WeChat Account – Companies without Chinese Licenses
PERSONAL WECHAT ACCOUNT
For years, a personal WeChat Account was the only way for international users to engage on WeChat. Personal accounts hark back to WeChat’s origins, which were creating a chat app that copied WhatsApp. The great news is that everything is in English, so you don’t have to worry about navigating a Chinese app.
The interface is very similar to WhatsApp, with the main screen having a list of your chats, groups and key accounts you follow:
On login, you see a list of chats with your contacts, which include companies you subscribe to with a Service account. There is a subscriptions folder which contains updates from all the Official Subscription accounts you follow.
The other key tabs are your contacts, which you can add in all sorts of ways (from scanning their unique QR code, to joining groups, adding via mobile, sending email invites or the ‘friend radar’ which allows you to add people in close proximity – a great feature at events or conferences).
On the discover feed, you can access ‘Moments’ which is essentially a news feed of public updates from friends, and various tools to find new content – from Top Stories to search features, that aggregate content published by Official Accounts.
WHY USE A PERSONAL WECHAT ACCOUNT?
If you are starting out on WeChat and just getting to grips with it, getting your head around the basic functions of the app is easy with a personal account.
You can use it to chat with friends in China. In fact, most Chinese WeChat members will use it as their primary communication tool – over SMS messages and emails. You will get straight through to even your busiest friends or most important business contacts.
You can call free using your internet connection – making it a great global calling app.
You can share updates to all your contacts via Moments
There are loads of cool features like the translate button that make WeChat an excellent communication bridge.
Personal accounts are global, there is nothing blocking you from visibility in China.
If you do business with anyone Chinese (including in residents, outside of China), you have an extra way to communicate that is fast, easy and second nature to Chinese users. You can promote that you are open and easy to communicate with, easy to do business with and across Chinese culture and technology by sharing your WeChat details and willingness to embrace the Chinese way of communicating and doing business.
You get a unique QR code you can share with prospects to help instantly connect and be able to message them directly.
WHAT PERSONAL WECHAT ACCOUNTS ARE LACKING?
You can’t publish content – this needs to be done via a business account
You can add individual contacts, but you will not build a “following”
Services are limited – you cannot use a lot of WeChat’s apps (known as mini programs) to interact with your audience
Consider a personal account like a WhatsApp account with a few features of your private Facebook Profile, and an Official Account like a Facebook Business Page.
OFFICIAL WECHAT ACCOUNTS – COMPANIES WITH CHINESE LICENSES
There are two types of Official WeChat Accounts – Service and Subscription.
Subscription accounts are the most common and allow you to post daily. In that post, you can share up to 8 articles, but it can only be pushed out once. Subscription accounts don’t have a lot of interactive functionality – they are designed for businesses that want to share lots of content.
The most notable difference is that subscription accounts live under your ‘Subscriptions’ folder – so your followers have to go looking for them to see your updates.
Service accounts have more functionality, but you can post less often. A Service account sits in your main chat list, next to conversations and every time they push out content, subscribers get an alert – meaning they are far more visible. However, you can only post 4 times a month (essentially weekly), and up to 6 articles with that post. Although they are less frequent, the visibility is far better. Further, Service accounts can be used for a variety of programmable functions like creating apps within WeChat, taking payments, sending customer service messages (great for ecommerce companies) and incorporating payments. A good example of these functions is that you can easily connect your WeChat account to your website and use the chat functions as a type of search tool – for example, a fashion site can allow WeChat users to request (in the chat) all the links to latest handbags.
For both accounts – there are no do-overs once you have posted so make sure to proofread!
If you have a Chinese business license, you can apply and be approved for a WeChat account within 7 days. Simply visit Weixin (WeChat in Chinese) here to begin your application. You can complete your application online and in English with the following process:
Enter your company details, including the Chinese ID details of the person who will run the account (this does not restrict your ownership or give away access to the ‘account operator’).
Authenticate your account. There are three options to authenticate your business. The commended option is ‘WeChat Verification’ which gives full access to advanced features, and a ‘verified’ badge on the account.
Finally, create your profile including a unique username and description (which will need to be in Chinese). The description can be changed later, but if you want to change your name, you will need to go through the verification process again including payment.
While your account is awaiting verification (which can range from less than 24 hours to 30 days, but usually completed within a week max), you’ll be able to log in to the backend (on desktop) and start customizing your profile – including profile photo, customizing menus and adding other account operators by a process called ‘binding’ which allows them to link their account to use it to log in to your admin.
PURCHASING A CHINESE WECHAT ACCOUNT
Some international companies that do not have a Chinese business license have set up on WeChat by purchasing an Official Account from a Chinese company, as each business can register multiple accounts.
However, we strongly advise against this for several reasons:
You are breaching WeChat’s terms of service and the account could be shut down, and your ability to get an account through proper channels limited
You do not have ownership of the account
It is difficult to log in without the owner of the account verifying you each time
These companies will charge a high fee
You likely will not be able to get a ‘verified’ badge, which limits trust of your readers
If you develop a large following, the original owner could take back control at any moment as the account becomes more valuable.
Thankfully, this option is no longer as popular (and many agencies that used to offer it no longer do) as over the last 12 months, WeChat has established a new process for international companies without a Chinese business account to get a verified account.
OFFICIAL WECHAT ACCOUNTS – COMPANIES WITHOUT A CHINESE LICENSE
Over the last 18 months, WeChat has created a new process to create an Official WeChat account for International businesses. However, this process relies on WeChat conducting a manual review of your business, and what kind of products/content you will be sharing to make sure it’s acceptable. This process thankfully is now much simpler than it used to be, and one of our most recent accounts has been created in less than 24 hours, as this option has become more popular, streamlined, and accepted by WeChat.
The caveat of this is that at present, International companies can only get a service account. So, you’ll need to work within its limits: Only posting once a week, though you can combine up to 6 articles into one group post.
The process is similar to above, though you will also be asked to upload your official business registration document, you’ll need to answer a call from a WeChat representative to verify the information, and ideally the person applying for the account should be a director of the company (so that you have your name on company documents). Once you have created the account in the WeChat platform, you will have a form to fill out and download that will request your account ID (which will be generated on signup) as well as your registered business name and ID number (passport or driver’s license).
We have found that although this process is a lot simpler than it used to be, however there is quite a bit of back and forth with the WeChat representative, and often requests that seem funny to a Western business but are in line with Chinese business culture, like asking you to sign your business certificate before uploading and write your name Last, First, Middle.
Let’s discuss your best options and WeChat strategy that is right for your business.