Brands new to WeChat often seem confused when we suggest opening a Service Account. “Why would we voluntarily limit the number of posts we can send out to only four posts per month?” they ask.
While that is one of the most obvious and well-known differences between WeChat Subscription and Service Accounts, there are numerous others, and which type of account your brand should open really all boils down to having clarity around your reasons and goals for joining WeChat.
Although both types of accounts allow you to send articles to your followers, set up autoresponder replies, menus, etc., they were created for different purposes and hence have different features and limitations.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the key differences between the two types of accounts and give our recommendations for the type that would best fit your needs. We’ll also share some examples of situations where brands decided to open both types of accounts, and why that can sometimes be a good solution.
Subscription Accounts (订阅号):
Subscription accounts are similar to having a blog or email newsletter. If your main aim is to raise brand awareness and your objective is to get the most content onto the WeChat platform as possible, or if you are a media outlet and content is your core product offering then a subscription account may be the right choice for you.
Because that is the only real advantage of a WeChat Subscription account - the ability to post articles on a daily basis.
But that isn’t even as good as it sounds. While these accounts can publish every day, all articles from subscription accounts are grouped together in a dedicated folder that is separate from users’ regular chats, and therefore have lower visibility.
To combat this, WeChat has introduced a “Frequently Read” bar at the top of the Subscription folder which behaves similarly to the Instagram feed algorithm. The more a user looks at that account, then it will be added to the bar at the top, and the accounts featured in this top bar are constantly changing. So that users can easily find their favorite accounts, WeChat has added the ability for users to “star” their favorite accounts, which will help users notice them more easily in the feed.
A user must click into the Subscription folder (left). Frequently Read accounts appear at the top (right)
Service Accounts (服务号):
Service accounts, as the name indicates, are best used for servicing your followers. Meaning consumers can obtain information about your brand and products, make customer service inquiries, access loyalty programs, and even place orders.
Where a subscription account can be likened to a blog or newsletter, a service account can be compared to your brand’s website. If your brand only plans to set up one WeChat Official Account, for most brands a service account would be the better choice as it has far more functions and capabilities than a subscription account such as:
- Advanced APIs allowing brands to obtain users’ open IDs, location, and other information
- Ability to send sending unlimited amounts of template messages
- Ability to create parametric QR codes to track follower sources
- Tagging and user segmentation for retargeting
- WeChat Pay integration
The obvious downside of a service account, which we mentioned are the beginning of the article, is that the account can only send out broadcast messages four times a month. But that doesn’t mean you can only send four posts. Actually, each time you send out a broadcast message you can send out a total of eight posts, one main post and seven sub-posts (same as with a subscription account).
One broadcast can include up to 8 posts. Example Above: ICBC Credit Card Service Account
There are also ways to work around the four-per-month limit. For example, with our Chatly software you can segment users into groups based on their interests, and each time you publish you can send different articles to different groups. So while each user still only receives four broadcast messages per month, two users may receive different content based on their preferences.
What’s more, where subscription posts are grouped in a dedicated folder, broadcast posts appear alongside messages from family and friends. This is particularly useful when sending order notifications and using the account for customer service purposes.
Messages from service accounts appear in main chat feed alongside posts from friends
And because they appear in the main message feed, service account posts usually have a higher open rate. However they may also have a higher unfollow rate because users may get tired of the notifications and WeChat has made it very easy for users to swipe left and click unfollow.
Opening Both Types of Accounts:
Instead of choosing only one type of account, some brands opt to open both. If managed properly this can be a great strategy as the brand gets the best of both worlds and the two accounts often complement each other and serve their own unique role.
One example is Chinese bank ICBC (中国工商银行). In order to regularly update its followers on financial news, tips, or hot topics, ICBC has chosen to use a subscription account as its main account. It has clearly distinguished the use of both accounts by naming its service account “ICBC Customer Service”, while its subscription main account is purely “ICBC”.
When users send any messages to its subscription account, they will receive an automatic response of a picture with the QR code for its service account along with a description of the services the account provides, driving users to the service account to resolve their inquiries.
User receives a picture with QR code (left). Close up of image listing account features (right).
Once users enter the service account, they are immediately sent a message with hyperlinks to different services such as checking account balances, opening accounts, viewing credit card statements, and talking to customer service.
Service account welcome message with links to popular services.
The roles of the two accounts are clearly delineated - one is educational, another is functional.
Ctrip, a major Chinese online travel agency, also utilizes both types of accounts, but in a slightly different way. Its main subscription account is centered around “exploring the mysteries of life with its followers” by showcasing different travel destinations related to pop culture or information on tourist attractions.
Ctrip’s subscription account welcome message drives users to explore popular trip itineraries and share their own travel stories.
On the other hand, the content for its service account is more promotional-oriented, providing travel guides and highlighting sales.
The content of Ctrip’s service account is more commercial.
Both accounts have similar menu bars for ticket reservations, sales, and account inquiries, but the layout and messaging of the service account emphasizes its role as a place where users can go to reach customer service and get their problems solved. Also, on this account users are able to receive template message notifications regarding their ticket reservations or membership points.
Service account users are able to receive template message notifications regarding their ticket reservations or membership points
In addition to these two accounts, Ctrip has several other Official Accounts (both subscription and service) specific to different verticals such as train tickets, hotels, daily deals, tourist attractions, etc.
Ctrip operates many Official Accounts!
Successfully managing two WeChat accounts requires significant time and resources, making it a less than ideal choice for most smaller brands. For those who are considering opening both types of accounts, be sure to have a very clear strategy for doing so.
Take KEF for example. KEF is a niche, high-end UK-based speaker company that has both a subscription and service account. The service account is used to provide after-sales services or information regarding their company and products. It is very much a brand-focused and functional account.
KEF’s service account
KEF’s subscription account @SOL 声活圈, is an online magazine focused on music industry hot topics and is largely unbranded, designed to attract KEF’s target audience of music connoisseurs by providing them with excellent content, slowly nurturing them to become fans of KEF.
KEF’s subscription account
The subscription account serves as the very top of the sales funnel, helping KEF find high-quality leads. KEF then drives leads over to the service account by promoting KEF hosted offline events on the subscription account.
To access the event registration form, users must scan a QR code and follow the service account. Upon following the service account via the event QR code, users automatically receive a personalized welcome message along with event details and registration form.
Message + link received after scanning QR code and following the service account
Even though it is double the workload to consistently operate and create content for two entirely different accounts, when done strategically it can be very beneficial. However, for most brands, especially those new to the China market, one Official Account is sufficient, and in this case, a service account is likely the better choice.