WeChat, also known as Weixin, is one of the largest social media and messenger platforms in the world. And odds are most people have never heard of it.
WeChat is the most popular messenger platform in China and has around 980 million active monthly members. That is 3x bigger than Skype, or around 50% the size of Facebook messenger.
I have heard there is some interest for professionals in connecting with Chinese clients, the majority of which use the platform. Since it is relatively unknown outside of China, here are my answers to some frequently asked questions about WeChat.
What is WeChat?
WeChat is a messaging and data-calling app most popular in China. It has 846 million monthly users and was created in 2010 by Zhang Xiaolong.
It is also a social networking platform. Every user is given a profile where they can post ‘moments’ (similar to Facebook posts) which are shared on a feed seen by WeChat users who have added each other.
Finally, WeChat is a payment platform like PayPal, with WeChat pay which gives users a virtual wallet that holds real currency. This does not seem to be used often (or ever) outside of China.
How does WeChat work?
WeChat works similar to WhatsApp.
You will need a phone number to sign up for an account. Once you have an account you can message other users on the platform that have accepted a connection with you.
To add users, you can:
- Search users by their user IDs
- Find local users who have set their profiles as public
- Scan their personalised QR codes
- Use the local ‘shake your phone’ feature where two users next to each other shake their phones at the same time and connect
- Gift others money in the Chinese tradition called ‘hongbao’ or Red Envelopes
Messages and calls are free because they use data and not phone credit.
Who uses WeChat?
There are approximately 980 million active monthly users of WeChat, including myself.
Approximately 100m users are located outside China.
In 2016 the majority of users are between 18-36, and there are almost twice as many men using the platform as females.
What is different between WeChat and Whatsapp?
There are a few differences between these platforms:
- WeChat has a virtual currency wallet and payments platform
- WeChat has a social feed, visible between users
- WeChat leverages QR code scanning
The main difference between the two apps is the WeChat is also a social networking platform (meaning that users have profiles and fees) and a Chinese payments platform.
The other difference is that WeChat is a broad application, rather than a narrow application. WeChat’s features seem to be directed toward creating a multi-functional application rather than focusing on a single function or use case.
Is WeChat free? How much does WeChat cost?
WeChat is free.
Currently there is no option for WeChat users to buy credit to call regular landlines. However, users can use real currency to buy WeChat emoticons or pay for services through the app.
Can WeChat do conference calls?
To create a conference call in WeChat, add multiple people to a single chat room and then initiate a voice call. This will create a voice call with all people in the same chat.
In my experience, WeChat voice calls are one of the most stable ways for foreigners to connect with others in China when compared to Skype or Whatsapp which can be jumpy or lagged.
What is WeChat’s business model?
WeChat monetises users on the platform, just like Facebook or Whatsapp.
WeChat’s revenue streams come from advertisements, selling games, emoticons and fees for transactions using the app.
Does WeChat have good customer service?
I could find no contact phone number or direct customer service email, however, WeChat has a helpdesk here.
Many issues are self-serve, with some requiring you to contact WeChat through the app or online forms. Having used the WeChat app help requests, I’ve found them to be fairly quick – fixing my issue in about 2-3 business days.
It appears that help is only offered in English and Mandarin.
Can WeChat be used on desktop?
To use WeChat on your desktop:
- Go to http://web.wechat.com/
- Open WeChat on your phone and go to the Discover tab
- Tap the ‘scan’ option and scan the QR code on your browser
You will now be logged into WeChat on your browser. You will have all chat functionalities available however the more advanced features such as video or voice calls and payments will not be available.
What languages are supported by WeChat?
WeChat supports the following languages in 2018:
- Mandarin Chinese (traditional and simplified)
WeChat launched its English version (where it got the English name ‘WeChat’) in 2012.
How does WeChat pay work?
To spend money:
- A cashier can scan your WeChat wallet unique QR code
- Open your WeChat wallet, click Money and enter a new transaction with details of the receiver
- If you know the person you are transferring to, send a hongbao or red envelope in Chat
To receive money:
- Request them to make a transfer using WeChat wallet transfer
- If you know the person, request them to send you a red envelope in chat
How do I sign up for WeChat?
To sign up for WeChat:
- Download the app (Find iOS or Android versions here)
- Open the app and tap signup
- Enter your phone details to receive a confirmation code
- Enter your confirmation code and full name
Congratulations, your WeChat account will now be ready to use. Add contacts to begin chatting.
Who owns WeChat?
WeChat is owned by Tencent, one of China’s largest technology companies. Tencent is currently worth over $500 bn USD.
Tencent is lead Ma Huateng. Ma founded the company with 4 work colleagues at age 27 in Shenzhen and is China’s richest businessman and 14th in the world.
Have any questions about WeChat? Feel free to connect with me or leave a note in the comments and I’d be happy to help.