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Matthew Brennan, Co-founder of China Channel, specializes in demystifying the world of WeChat. The Tencent-owned app has become essential for business in China, and now has about 697 million active users monthly, 600 million of which are located in China.

Brennan spoke with Business Now – via WeChat – in advance of two AmCham China events where he'll discuss how foreign business can better leverage this emerging medium: the Tianjin Breakfast Briefing Series on April 13 and the Beijing event “Creative and Affordable Social Media Marketing Approaches” on April 19.

Can you discuss some of the pitfalls awaiting companies at the very first step of creating an official WeChat account?

The first step is to open and verify an account. Any business, Chinese or foreign, must be registered under the name and ID card number of a Chinese citizen. Be careful when choosing an account name because it is permanent, typos and all. There are some third-party service providers who can help guide foreign companies through this process, but it is pretty straightforward.

There are two types of accounts that businesses use: service and subscription accounts. Service accounts are far more visible as they pop up as posts in users’ chat thread timeline but are limited to four posts a month. Alternatively, subscription accounts live in the Subscriptions folder and thus are hidden. Subscriptions can push content daily to followers and are better suited for news or media brands that are able to produce interesting content more regularly.

What challenges or common mistakes do businesses face when engaging WeChat?

WeChat is very different from other social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Line. A traditional social media strategy may not work well for WeChat.

A common mistake companies often make is using WeChat to push content out to the audience. Instead, businesses should seek to provide services to customers through the platform. One example is QR codes which are considered cheesy and out of date in the West. In China, QR codes appear at business locations on signs or products and act as a gateway from offline to online. WeChat users in China have internalized the idea that if you scan a QR code something good is going to happen – maybe you will earn points towards a membership card or perhaps receive a coupon for your next purchase.

Any advice for professionals on how to integrate WeChat with work life?

WeChat is the No. 1 social platform in China and presents many great networking opportunities. In Beijing most professionals communicate by email and still exchange physical business cards. I have noticed that this is changing, especially in second-tier cities as people add business connections on WeChat and chat as a way to maintain relationships. Just make sure all your pictures and posts are work appropriate.