Like Facebook, WeChat offers messaging and a ‘wall’ functionality. But unlike Facebook, it has cracked e-commerce. Some of its success stems from WeChat finding a way to be culturally appropriate for its audience.

The platform was a very early adopter of emojis. These work brilliantly for the Chinese, since traditional Chinese characters are pictographs, which means the Chinese are accustomed to ideograms.

In fact a study found that emojis are so integral now in Asian culture to the point that “when there are texts without [emoji or stickers], people start to worry their friends may be angry with them; or they become angry…because of a perceived lack of thoughtfulness by the sender.”

WeChat has also understood how to help Chinese with the vital concept of ‘face’ (mianzi in Chinese).


‘Face’ is simultaneously your reputation and your place in your network. It requires making constant adjustments to your social interactions to ensure your “face” to the world is optimal.

Obviously that’s what social media is all about, even in the West.

But WeChat has taken it to the next level by allowing brands themselves to enter and interact with friendship circles – users can add official accounts in the same manner as ‘friends.'

With the modern Chinese middle class penchant for luxury and foreign brands, management of face has become a branded social experience. In China, sharing what you bought is important.

There’s another key difference in terms of how brands behave on WeChat versus western social media. In the West, brands seek to drive social conversation in order to build awareness and brand equity. But on WeChat, things are much more direct.

The business approach of the Chinese could be summed up in one sentence: “Talk is cheap, show me the money.”


To give an example, say an Australian wine brand wished to promote its new bubbly. On Facebook, they might sell ‘implicitly’ via creating content. Perhaps this would be a seasonal flatlay or a video.

On WeChat, you would link users to their nearest liquor provider, where they’d receive a promotional coupon based on their previous purchase history. WeChat focuses on driving the transaction.

Western social media lags WeChat by some margin in terms of its e-commerce potency.

For example, through a partnership with WeChat, Alibaba competitor was able to grow its sales by 110% last year, from 14 million orders to over 30 million orders on Singles Day (70% of them on mobile).

According to Internet Retailer, 52% of first-time customers coming to on Singles Day arrived there clutching a coupon from the social networks WeChat or Mobile QQ.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest have all experimented with ‘buy now’ ads, but no retailer has reported such a huge impact from the technology.

Our platforms still need to crack the integration of social and e-commerce. The rise of social selling groups and Instagram’s new purchase tagging system are interesting developments…but we’re not there yet.

WeChat’s features and functions aren’t actually that different to any other social platform, but it’s the way they’ve been integrated – in a manner that’s appropriate to the Chinese cultural context – that have fuelled its rapid adoption.

Given the scale of commissions on offer for successful referrals, you can bet that Mark Zuckerberg is studying the WeChat phenomenon very, very closely. Watch this Newsfeed…