Almost nine in 10 Chinese professionals rely on WeChat for work communication – but only around two in 10 use email. If you want to do business in China, you need to be on WeChat. Most businesses looking to enter the China market are looking to set up a verified “Service” WeChat account. Service account have additional functionalities to support the full customer journey, from brand awareness, to lead generation, to customer service and loyalty drives. For that, you need to go through the WeChat verification process. But setting up an official Service account is not necessarily a straightforward exercise.
Technically, there are two WeChat’s – the international version, and China’s ‘Weixin’. To create an official account for China, you will need a Chinese business licence, or you will have to go through a case-by-case application process. The verification process can be opaque. If Tencent rejects your application, there’s not a simple mechanism to challenge this. So, what are some of the common pitfalls for businesses looking to apply for a WeChat official account?
We go through some of the common, and easily avoided, WeChat verification pitfalls for Western brands:
Top 4 WeChat verification pitfalls
1. ‘Borrowing’ local legal entities
When it comes to creating a Chinese WeChat account, there exists a bit of a grey area where international companies ‘borrow’ local legal entities from third parties. This will mean that your account will have your branding, name and content, but is technically still owned by the Chinese legal entity.
The issue with this approach is that it very often leads to disputes between the brand in whose name the account was opened and the 3rd party who owns it. Last year, the issue made headlines when the Australian Prime Minister’s WeChat account was sold, wiped and rebranded as “Australian Chinese New Life”. The new owner had purchased the account because it had 76,000 followers from a particular demographic without knowing it was the Prime Minister of Australia’s WeChat. However, because the account was registered to an agency, not the Prime Minister or his office, it could be stopped, taken down, or sold at any time.
What’s more, this kind of setup can have a serious impact on your brand’s success in China as consumers will doubt the account’s authenticity if they see a discrepancy between the account brand name and the legal entity who owns it. We recommend staying clear of this approach.
2. Using “sensitive” words in your brand name or description
When you apply for WeChat verification, you will need to supply an account name and description. It is critical you make sure you check it with someone familiar with Chinese culture to make sure it doesn’t contain possibly “sensitive” words and images, or your account will not be approved by Tencent.
So, what counts as “sensitive” content? You can get a sense from the sort of material to be on the lookout for from news and blogs that discuss content that’s restricted by China’s Great Firewall. There is no definitive list, so you should consider possible political connotations, as well as advertising regulation banning “extreme” words in marketing (like “best”, “most famous”, etc). A good China marketing agency can help you navigate this. If you’re working with a local China branch, or agents, share the content and ask for their insight.
3. Using special symbols or spaces in your account name
Love emojis? Best save the creativity for your posts. WeChat has strict naming conventions for official accounts. You are not allowed special symbols or spaces in the name. Your verification application might not be blocked, but there’s a fair chance it will be delayed.
4. Not including a “pinyin” name
You may wish to consider include a “pinyin” version of your organisation’s name. In Mandarin Chinese, the phrase “Pin Yin” literally translates into “spell sound.” Pinyin is the romanisation of Chinese characters to spell out English word pronunciations. For example, luxury jewellery brand Cartier’s pinyin name is 卡地亚, which reads Kǎ Di Yà using the Chinese character for card, land, and Asia respectively. Pinyin can help Chinese people search and find your organisation far more easily within the WeChat ecosystem.
WeChat verification can be a complicated business, but there are plenty of reasons it's worth the effort. With more than a billion users in China, WeChat dominates the social, and business, landscape. Most Western businesses within China already use WeChat. A 2020 survey revealed around nine in 10 American companies used WeChat to communicate with employees, while almost eight in 10 used it to talk to local government. If you need support setting up an official account, our friendly team of experts can help. Learn more about our services here.