How does WeChat work?

Sim­i­lar to the mes­sen­ger ser­vices we know in the West (see What­sApp or Face­book Mes­sen­ger), WeChat can be used to send text mes­sages, voice mes­sages, pic­tures, videos and doc­u­ments to con­tacts and groups. Audio or video calls can also be made via WeChat. You can also share links from oth­er apps (like LinkedIn, Spo­ti­fy, Wei­bo, etc.).

Fur­ther­more, WeChat is also a social media plat­form. That means there are pro­file pic­tures, gal­leries, sto­ries, fan groups, likes, etc. as we know them from our social media plat­forms like Insta­gram, Face­book or LinkedIn.

Connect and Share

So far, I have described WeChat as if it were some sort of pla­gia­rism from the big Amer­i­can social media chan­nels. This is far from being the case. Because beyond the com­mu­ni­ca­tion func­tions known to us, the Chi­nese ver­sion con­tains many more pos­si­bil­i­ties. Let’s not for­get that Ten­cent is orig­i­nal­ly a com­mu­ni­ca­tions provider. For this rea­son, oral com­mu­ni­ca­tion is much more impor­tant than com­mu­ni­ca­tion via text, for exam­ple. Besides, the Chi­nese font is much more com­plex than our 26 let­ters. So it stands to rea­son that con­sumers pre­fer to talk to each oth­er rather than write.

I will come back to this par­tic­u­lar­i­ty lat­er when it comes to mar­ket­ing. After all, of course, the pri­or­i­ty is giv­en to voice com­mu­ni­ca­tion also has an impact on the way sales are made in Chi­na. Chi­nese mar­ket­ing is based on net­works. Every­one in Chi­na is only as impor­tant as the peo­ple you net­work with. If you want to achieve some­thing, you can only do so if you know the right peo­ple or have con­tacts. So it’s no won­der that net­work­ing with the help of WeChat is extreme­ly impor­tant in China.

In the fol­low­ing I give you a brief intro­duc­tion to the func­tions of WeChat.

WeChat Shake

WeChat Shake is a very pop­u­lar func­tion to con­nect to some­one at ran­dom. The right con­tact is cre­at­ed like a lucky tick­et in a lot­tery. WeChat Shake uses a ran­dom gen­er­a­tor to estab­lish con­tact with anoth­er user when they shake their mobile phone at the same time. You heard right, the mobile phone has to be shak­en. If two peo­ple some­where in Asia shake their mobile phones at the same time, they are con­nect­ed. It becomes a chat for both pos­si­ble. The two can add them­selves as friends and chat togeth­er. This is, of course, a won­der­ful way to meet a new friend or a poten­tial bride.

How­ev­er, the tran­si­tion from pri­vate to com­mer­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion is flu­id in Chi­na. Offline sell­ers such as super­mar­kets and hotels also use the shake func­tion to dis­trib­ute spe­cial offers and prof­its in this way. If users come to a defined loca­tion at a cer­tain time and shake their phone there, they can win some­thing in the right match.

TV sta­tions also use this func­tion to attract view­ers. With the shake func­tion, they can inter­act with them in real-time. For exam­ple, if users watch TV and a WeChat logo appears in the pic­ture, view­ers can shake their smart­phones and then win a coupon or a spe­cial offer at the right match.


People nearby

This func­tion can be used to net­work. This time, how­ev­er, with peo­ple in the imme­di­ate vicin­i­ty. If you go into a bar alone and look for con­tacts, you can dis­play on your smart­phone who would like to be con­tact­ed. The app func­tion shows peo­ple near­by who are “on recep­tion”. So you can first add and chat with each oth­er before look­ing at each oth­er direct­ly in the eye. This func­tion helps shy peo­ple to talk to strangers and thus pos­si­bly find friends and make appoint­ments. But of course, you can also find friends in the crowd. The func­tion is based on real-time local­iza­tion of the user.


WeChat for business communications

WeChat is also very impor­tant in the work­ing envi­ron­ment. For this rea­son, the social media app also includes func­tions that have been spe­cial­ly devel­oped for coop­er­a­tion with col­leagues. For exam­ple, files can be shared and for­ward­ed. Con­fer­ence calls and streams make it pos­si­ble to orga­nize vir­tu­al con­fer­ences. In addi­tion, there are enter­prise accounts, which are increas­ing­ly used for PR and cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Fur­ther­more, project track­ing (e.g. how far the project has been com­plet­ed) or to cre­ate invoic­es can be done. Anoth­er very pop­u­lar fea­ture is that users send and scan WeChat QR codes to each oth­er instead of exchang­ing busi­ness cards. The advan­tage of QR codes is that the data is exchanged dig­i­tal­ly and does not have to be entered manually.


WeChat Moments

Moments are anoth­er social net­work func­tion with­in WeChat. It works like a semi-closed plat­form where pho­tos, videos, arti­cles, and out­bound links are avail­able for select­ed users. The Moments inter­face is par­tic­u­lar­ly used by brand man­u­fac­tur­ers. They use this chan­nel to pro­mote them­selves or their prod­ucts. New users and cus­tomers can be acquired via Moment-Ads (ads). Or influ­encers have the task to spread the Moment-Ads by for­ward­ing the ads to their followers.

WeChat Moments can be com­pared in the broad­est sense with the feed on Face­book, where users also share expe­ri­ences or inter­est­ing things with each other.

WeChat Pay: Digital wallet

The most impor­tant dif­fer­ence to the Amer­i­can social media plat­forms is the dif­fer­ent pay­ment func­tions of WeChat. The WeChat Wal­let (also called WeChat Pay) opens up the pos­si­bil­i­ty of cash­less pay­ment. To acti­vate this func­tion, the WeChat account must be linked to a bank account from which the sums are deb­it­ed or deposit­ed direct­ly. Since Octo­ber 2019, WeChat Pay can also be oper­at­ed with an inter­na­tion­al cred­it card.

The link to WeChat Pay makes it pos­si­ble to pay bills by scan­ning QR codes. Users can also trans­fer mon­ey direct­ly to oth­er users. There is also a func­tion that allows bills to be shared. This is handy if you want to go out to din­ner with the team or your friends, or if you want to buy a birth­day present for a colleague.

A spe­cial fea­ture in Chi­nese cul­ture is the “red envelopes”, which, filled with mon­ey, are tra­di­tion­al­ly giv­en away on spe­cial occa­sions. With WeChat, these “red pack­ages” can now be giv­en as dig­i­tal gifts. A func­tion that is very pop­u­lar with the Chinese.


Third-party applications and mini programs

In addi­tion to the stan­dard func­tions described above, it is pos­si­ble to upgrade your own WeChat appli­ca­tion with addi­tion­al “wid­gets” or even “mini pro­grams”. These dig­i­tal exten­sions are avail­able in our own WeChat App Store. Pos­si­ble func­tions include book­ing and pay­ing for rental bikes (shared bikes), sub­scrib­ing to news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines, book­ing taxis, smart home appli­ca­tions and man­ag­ing and pay­ing elec­tric­i­ty bills. In addi­tion, flights can also be booked and paid for. Par­tic­u­lar­ly pop­u­lar are mini pro­grams, which allow a con­sumer to con­nect to shop­ping chan­nels. In this way, shop­ping becomes a leisure activ­i­ty that can be enjoyed at any place and at any time of day.

The mini pro­grams are also made avail­able to com­pa­nies who then acti­vate spe­cial ser­vices such as book­ing flights or cars for their employ­ees with­in the WeChat app.


The search func­tion offers great enter­tain­ment val­ue. It can be used to estab­lish cross-con­nec­tions between the indi­vid­ual Mini pro­grams. Prod­ucts, top­ics, and con­tacts are searched for using key­words. To be found, the shop oper­a­tors pub­lish their arti­cles in the “Offi­cial Accounts” with key­words. Like­wise, con­tent from friends can be found in the cat­e­gories “Moments”, “Con­ver­sa­tions”, “His­to­ries”, “Stick­ers” etc.

Cus­tomers search for prod­ucts, research news from the media or dis­cus­sion top­ics and con­ver­sa­tions from friends. The search func­tion serves pri­mar­i­ly to keep track of all top­ics in the app. From a mar­ket­ing point of view, it nat­u­ral­ly has the func­tion of retain­ing the atten­tion of cus­tomers for as long as pos­si­ble. Today, every user spends an aver­age of more than 90 min­utes per day alone with WeChat.

Ok guys, I hope you learned some­thing new about the func­tions and pos­si­bil­i­ties WeChat offers. Did you know about the func­tions before? Let me know in the comments!



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Nora Holtmann is a passionate platform hacker: She loves to discover new platforms and explore their technical possibilities for new businesses. Her specialty is developing new digital business models for social media platforms and reporting on them in books and blogs. That you are reading about her here is the best proof that it works. As a lecturer, she trains online marketing managers and helps them to develop creative opportunities for their companies. Her passion is traveling. When she is not traveling with her backpack, she travels the world via the internet. This way she has made contacts all over the world. She lives in Berlin and also loves to travel culinary to the countries where she is currently mentally active (currently China and Korea are on the menu). Nora Holtmann can be booked for lectures and seminars. Also check out her books on Amazon!

4 thoughts to “How does WeChat work?”

  1. Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It real­ly help­ful & it helpedme out much. I’m hop­ing to present one thing again and aidothers like you aid­ed me.

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