Charlie Campbell

The world through the eyes of a Sinophile.

Marketing / Social Media

WeChat (微信) for Beginners: Introduction

WeChat is the window into China everything. It’s a way for you to connect with friends, do business, and reach millions and millions of people. In a few short years, WeChat has grown from nothing into a messaging and marketing giant. Mobile China = WeChat.

WeChat is owned by Tencent (founders of QQ, another popular messaging app) and by the numbers, is one of the largest social networking apps in the world. As of August 12, 2015 WeChat has 600 million monthly active users (MAUs). Twice the population of the United States.

WeChat is a messaging service with an explosion of features on it’s mobile-only platform. Connie Chan from Andreessen Horowitz wrote an amazing deep dive summary into WeChat’s history and future. Highly suggested for an in-depth review of WeChat’s business fundamentals.

I want to introduce WeChat basics so marketers and normal people like you and I can better operate in China. I’ll cover:

  • Why WeChat is important
  • How to set up the English version
  • Find and add friends
  • Feature introduction

In the meantime, I encourage everybody to download the app and I can be your first friend (id: bampbell).

WeChat can be downloaded from the app store either in English or Chinese depending on your phones default language. It’s best if you use a Chinese cell phone number to register, it will open up a lot of features but a US number works as well.

Why it’s important you start using WeChat

China is a massive market everybody is trying to figure out and get a piece of (myself included). WeChat is a perfect gateway drug to getting your feet wet with a built-in translate feature for non-mandarin speakers so you can begin to build a network.

WeChat serves a lot of different purposes for different people. Personally I have two accounts: one for business and one for pleasure. Here is some areas of your life it will improve.

Social Life

You’re entire social life will be run through WeChat. Guaranteed. People prefer to use WeChat over phone calls…yikes.


Business executives, managers, employees, and businesses themselves all have WeChat accounts and use them daily. China never caught the email bug and have always preferred instant messaging. We now are seeing a transition from QQ (basically IM) to mobile messaging aka WeChat.

WeChat makes it easy to set up call times in different timezones and stay in touch with what’s happening in your business on the ground through images/videos. It has been the silver bullet on our nursery business.


WeChat uses the ‘app within an app’ model and already hosts millions of mini apps on its platform (See Connie Chan’s article above). Marketers can target ming boggling numbers of active Chinese users through ‘official accounts’. This is important because Chinese consumers are notoriously difficult to reach and WeChat is a perfect platform to reach your target.

How to find/invite friends

There are a lot of different ways to add people on WeChat. Below are the most common. WeChat follows the Facebook model of adding/accepting friends rather than an open platform like Twitter.

User ID (usually their Chinese cell) — most common unless you’re standing next to them


QR code — fastest and most used method of adding people on WeChat, especially face to face






Other — there are other ways like shake or recommended friends but these are the ones you’ll use most

Accepting friend requests — Once somebody has added you, it will pop up under recommended friends



WeChat is loaded with features and continues to expand their offerings focused on utility rather than fluff. I still remember when it was an ugly black/white screen you could send messages over wifi.


Messaging is the core of WeChat and it’s main interface. You can send text, images, videos, files of all formats (.pdf, word, excel), voice recordings, stickers, and short 5 second videos.


You communicate directly with friends, not with strangers. It’s similar to Facebook but focused on the messaging rather than the ‘wall post’ model.  Facebook went from wall -> messages, WeChat has grew from messenger -> wall (aka moments). Far more utilitarian.

Voice messages

Users are able to walkie talkie into WeChat and leave a voice message (max 60 seconds). What’s culturally interesting about voice recordings are they avoid one of the most anoyying parts of Mandarin Chinese: typing characters. Unbelievably more efficient.

wechat-voice recordings

Autotranslate (yay!)

WeChat translates messages directly in app by pressing and holding messages. If your default language is English, it will automatically translate into Chinese and vice versa for Chinese <> English. Amazing feature for people living in China that don’t speak Mandarin.


Send images/video

WeChat automatically compresses images/videos and you can send up to 9 images at a time – either by taking them new or selecting them from an album.



Record and send 6 second clips either directly to other users via messenger or in the moments feature. Think Vine but built in.


Voice/video calls

Voice and video calls are embedded into the messaging feature. Voice/video calls are made natively through WeChat and can only be made through the platform (for now) and seems to be faster than Skype.


Group messaging

Pretty self explanatory. You can create a group and take advantage of all messaging features.




Group messaging alone is a gigantic time saver. One message can prevent an entire 30 minute meeting with our staff.


Moments deserves it’s own post. Imagine Facebook as a mobile only version of News Feed. You post articles, pictures, sights, or just their thoughts.


For each post you can either ‘like’ it or ‘leave a comment’. If I comment on a post, if we’re not mutual friends, the third party won’t see my post. This is another level of privacy for users posting personal content to their WeChat.

Another useful feature is you can highly target your readers by selecting who to send content to. This is awesome for marketers who want to send more directed adds at their audiences.

Can’t tell you how many people use this. Everywhere you look, they are spending the majority of their time on moments. I’ll be experimenting with ways to better target readers.


One of the strongest features of WeChat is it’s payment system. It allows payments to be paid directly through the platform itself and businesses can accept payment instantaneously. Through the payments platform you can: book a hotel, taxi, doctors appointment etc.

Payments bring the most important factors to business natively inside of the app: money. Through official accounts, businesses can reach users directly and in a more intimate way.

Note: this requires that you have Chinese cell phone number to sign up. I’ll think of a workaround method to hacking this so people can gain access to this feature.

I owe my social life and business to WeChat while living in China. It has served as an invaluable tool and I’m sure will continue to only get better. Moving forward, I can’t wait to see just how deep it can infiltrate everybodys lives.

How have you used WeChat? Leave any comments of your own experiences with WeChat!


China’s Ecommerce Model (e-tail) Explained

**Published August 14th, 2013**

Read time: 5 min

Unlike the United States where retail was built upon a strong foundation of national chains, China’s retail model is going to jump or skip the physical store stage, also known as the leapfrog effect .

A new model of retail is emerging. Not one built upon the infrastructure of physical stores, but one built on top of ecommerce that paves the way towards higher levels of retail efficiency.

China ecommerce at a glance

Hard Facts:

• World’s largest online population, with 130 million residential broadband accounts
• Ecommerce produced more than $190 billion in 2012 sales
• China’s commerce industry has posted 120% compound annual growth since 2003
• More than 6 million e-merchants list products on Taobao

Growth potential:

• China’s broadband penetration is only 30% (population 1.3 billion)
• Online sales could reach $650 billion by 2020
• By 2020, commerce could potentially lift China’s private consumption by additional 4-7%
• In Tier 4 cities (small, rural cities), the average online shopper spends 27% of disposable income through ecommerce
• Ecommerce could boost labor productivity in China’s retail sector by 14%

**SOURCE: McKinsey Global Institute analysis**

Compare and contrast these with the United States.



Focus on Where do sales happen? Interesting huh?

Most of us don’t differentiate between different types of ecommerce. We all think ecommerce is ecommerce, but clearly this doesn’t tell the whole story. As seen above, marketplaces share of China’s total e-tailing activity stands at a staggering 90% compared to only 23% in the United States. Clearly there is something going on here.

Why the difference? Retail in the United States originated from physical stores and large players grew into national chains. National chains then laid the foundation for ecommerce to be built upon, explaining why 76% of ecommerce activity in the United States is done through individual sites or storefronts. Surprisingly Amazon and Ebay combined only account for 12.5% of the market share.

Evidence of the leapfrog effect is already taking place in China.

Retail in China traditionally has been hyper-local and lower tiered cities didn’t have access to products. With the explosion of ecommerce, businesses can now reach consumers in Tier 2, 3 and 4 cities.  People living in tier 4 cities (Beijing/Shanghai are Tier 1 for reference) already spend 27% of their disposable income through ecommerce.

Shipping has also reaped the benefits. True story: I bought t-shirt in the morning, it shipped same day, and was at my doorstep by dinner. Had to be expensive right? Nope, cost me nothing. Can you imagine free same day shipping through Amazon? No one would ever leave their house ever again.

Potential outcomes of an explosion in retail efficiency

  • Cities not centered around shopping malls or shopping centers, saving space for an urbanizing population
  • Entrepreneurs and existing retail stores host their products only on the marketplace giant – – rather than start their own ecommerce sites (cutting costs)
  • Online sales drive offline sales to spur domestic demand
  • Less expensive, high-end retail
  • An entire retail ecosystem built around efficiency

Growth will be fueled by value-add services

Value chain activities need to be improved, such as marketing/online systems, payment, warehousing, delivery, and IT (ERP or CRM). As of now the majority of  value-add activities are  done through the major marketplaces themselves, such as Taobao or Paipai.

(To all you entrepreneurs, there is a ton of opportunity for startups in this space. Some of us call it the Wild Wild East.)

Ultimately, China is poised to develop a retail model centered around efficiency, side-stepping or leap frogging the importance of physical stores. Who knows, maybe their unique e-tail system will provide the rest of the developing world with another model to replicate.

I would love to hear any comments, responses, or ideas on the impact of the leapfrog effect and what it means for the world economy.

**For more detailed analysis, see China’s e-tail revolution**