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WeChat: What Kiwi businesses need to know

Trade Advice

WeChat is far more than a messaging app.  With more than 700 million monthly active users, it is also a powerful social network, a marketing and ecommerce platform, a digital payments service and a channel to reach vast audiences in China and around the world.

It is no surprise to see WeChat being used extensively by the likes of Air New Zealand, Fonterra and even Prime Minister John Key.  Last week, the first New Zealand shops to accept WeChat payments were announced.  

Is it time for all Kiwi businesses to get in on the action?

New Zealand China Council Executive Director Stephen Jacobi says more organisations should consider WeChat as part of their social media mix.  The Council has just set up its own WeChat account ahead of Chinese Language Week, which kicks off next week.  

“As a country we need to become more sophisticated in our approach to China, and tools like WeChat offer a way to connect with Chinese New Zealanders, as well as visitors from China.” Mr Jacobi says.  

Not every business needs a WeChat account

If you want to interact with Chinese New Zealanders or reach out to consumers in China, you should consider getting a WeChat account for your business.

Sectors like tourism have most to benefit from using the platform.  WeChat has become indispensable among young urban Chinese consumers, and figures from Statistics NZ show WeChat is now one of the most popular forms of social media used by visitors to New Zealand outside of Facebook.

On the flipside, the majority of New Zealand SMEs have less to gain from a WeChat account unless their target markets include a substantial number of Chinese speakers.

Businesses need official, not personal accounts

Businesses interact with users through official accounts.  These are very different from personal accounts in that anyone can connect with them and view their content.  

Unlike Facebook, you need to provide a lot of information to validate an official WeChat account and the approval process can take some time.  At a minimum, you need to provide your business phone number and email address, and documentation to prove genuine existence of the business, such as tax forms or registration documents.  

There are also different types of official accounts.  Subscription accounts are more basic and suit smaller businesses, allowing them to post once per day to their followers.  Service accounts allow for more posts, and functions such as targeted ads and payments.  

Chinese and International WeChat accounts are different

Here’s where things get a little more complicated.  Not all WeChat accounts are created equal - setting up an account outside China means your content will not be seen inside China.

So if your goal is to reach people living in China, you will need to register for an official account as a Chinese registered entity.   The first thing to note is that the process for this is conducted in Chinese.  You will also need to provide a Chinese ID, mobile number, business license and organisation code.

Where do I start?

You can simply head to http://apply.wechat.com/ to start the process.  Many businesses prefer to seek the advice of an agency to help them with a WeChat strategy, and with the registration process itself.  Companies such as China Skinny, run by an expat Kiwi in Shanghai specialise in helping businesses make the most of WeChat.  

This article was first published in the Exporter Magazine.