Like anywhere else in the world, you need the right networking skills to be successful in business in China. To get in touch with the players in China’s business arena, you need to be an active WeChat user. Forget LinkedIn, download WeChat now. And take note of a few lessons for novices, like this one: even CEO’s of large enterprises are active on this app, but don’t be alarmed if their WeChat avatar is ‘Hello Kitty’.
How-to 1 – You are a bit late
Downloaded the app, complete registration, choose an image that fits you for a profile photo, find a goof cover photo, add a header that describes what you do (f.e. ‘Selling Gouda Cheese’) and add some info about you or your business. You are ready to meet with friends, colleagues and business partners you already know. The first thing you may notice is that a large part of your Chinese network is already on WeChat. You arrived a bit late at the party, but that’s OK. You’re now part of the largest community in China, with 740 million users. Compare that to LinkedIn’s 20 million Chinese users worldwide and you will agree: if you can’t find a person in China on WeChat, he or she probably does not exist.
How-to 2 – a powerful tool
There are dozens of things you can do on WeChat – a lot more than on other chat apps like Whatsapp. You can build your own business profile page on WeChat, open an online store, or have people buy and pay for your products. Scan a product’s QR-code and buy it instantly. Or scan a person’s QR-code (see below) and add his or her data to your app. Send photos and PDF-documents via WeChat. Use WeChat for your phone and video calls; you will notice that WeChat offers a much better connection than most other channels/solutions.
How-to 3 – make friends, don’t wait for the opportunity
Just pick a person’s QR code or add a phone number from a business card or a different source and ‘go’. Introduce yourself, explain how you got his or her details. Or just send a hi sticker, add a nice pic, a short piece of profile and wait for the result. During conversations, it can work well if you include photos of the country you are from, like a windmill or a nice shot of typical European countryside. “Being from Europe or the US definitely is a bonus, don’t forget to use it. Many Chinese will want to connect with you because of your ‘exotic’ background”, says Floor Nobels, owner of Worklife Recruitment in China. What if you don’t speak Mandarin? No problem. Write English, just hit the ‘translate’ button. The translation may be crooked and Dunglish-style, but you will get the message across.”
How-to 4 – The Hello Kitty CEO
Avatars are important on WeChat, but the Chinese tend to handle their social and business profiles on this platform quite differently from how most westerners deal with how they look on LinkedIn. “You will come across Hello Kitty avatars and comic book figures. Don’t be surprised: there may be an entrepreneur, an MD or CEO behind the image. I know a CIO of a well-known global enterprise, who uses a comic-style warrior as an avatar. In the west we expect to see a high-quality photo in a LinkedIn profile. If you have that, your profile will get noticed and viewed seven times more often! We would not take anyone serious who uses Mickey Mouse in his LinkedIn profile, but on WeChat, almost anything goes. Many women prefer a flower photo or a landscape”, says Floor Nobels, who as owner of a headhunting agency screens hundreds of online profiles in China.
How-to 5 – what is next?
You will notice that WeChat is a wonderful mix of business and private. Nobody seems to be worried about kids’ photos and business information requests and even business transactions are handled on the same platform. It is a combination of LinkedIn, Facebook and Whatsapp! “Do mix some social info in your business chats on WeChat”, Floor offers. “My Chinese business friends love it when I add the latest crayon drawing of my daughter or canal photos, taken during my latest visit to Amsterdam.”
“I work with WeChat to connect to persons I do not know, to turn connections into business and to serve customers and candidates”, Floor Nobels explains. “It has become such an important tool in my business practice, that I hardly use email these days. I switch to email only when I need to send a contract to a client.” Floor points out that communicating on WeChat is quite visually oriented. “Many users include dozens over emoji’s in their conversations. You can get many free stickers, but TenCent makes a lot of money by selling unique stickers, often great-looking animations.”
How-to 6 – start profiling yourself and your business, add ‘moments’
Share your thoughts, your experiences, the benefits of your products in ‘moments’, the equivalent of Facebook posts. And start connecting, communicating and doing business! One final interesting detail: if LinkedIn is your favourite network building tool, be aware that you can now link WeChat and LinkedIn easily.