WeChat: Social-Based Healthcare in the Chinese Market

May 21, 2020

What is WeChat?

Owned by tech behemoth Tencent, WeChat is the largest social network in China, with over 1.1B monthly average users. It’s evolved from a Messenger-style service in 2011 to a one-stop shop that includes messaging, social, multi-purpose apps within the app known as mini-programs, telehealth, DTC education, HCP verification, banking, gaming, movie tickets, utility bills, and more. Users are required to create accounts with their real names, which contributes to the multi-purpose functionality of the platform and its ability to reach into many aspects of daily life.

WeChat is fast becoming the #1 online healthcare destination in China, and with Tencent partnering with more and more US-based companies to grow its healthcare offerings, WeChat has now become an essential platform to consider if your brand has plans to launch in this market.

Why is it relevant to our space now?

Tencent and WeChat are steadily building a healthcare ecosystem that makes WeChat a natural destination for digital healthcare strategies in the Chinese market. As healthcare becomes ever more digital and democratized, the below features are leading the way:

Tencent Medical Knowledge bank

• A WeChat DTC platform providing consumer-directed educational content, including vaccine integrity checks (in conjunction with China’s FDA-equivalent, the National Medical Products Administration)

• Tencent has partnered with WebMD, NEJM and Elsevier to support its consumer medical education content

Chinese Medical Doctor Association

• A WeChat HCP platform that authenticates HCPs and allows them to publish direct

The AI Medical Innovation System

• Pioneering AI image scanning and diagnosis


• A web/app-based platform with a WeChat mini-program app that is integrated with over 300K HCPs and over 3K hospitals

• Offers telehealth

Tencent Trusted Doctors

• A mini-program connected to over 440K HCPs that offers verified practitioners, online appointments, and online payments

JD Health

• This mini-program allows discounted group-buying for certain healthcare products, including:

  • Rx drugs
  • OTC products including vitamins and supplements
  • Medical devices
  • It also offers telehealth and free online consultation options

There are many health-related mini-programs in the ecosystem, which, when combined with WeChat’s extensive market saturation (the platform is used by 98% of internet users in China), drives home the point that this platform has a reached critical mass in terms of reach and usage, and is only going to expand from here.

There are industry-based restrictions on WeChat advertising, with healthcare being one of the restricted industries.

While healthcare brands are not currently permitted to use the ad platform in any capacity, there are other options for our industry, primarily in the unbranded organic educational space, e.g., creating mini-programs, knowledge platforms, gamification experiences, and other health-related tools, which is where pharma/health brands have been able to make inroads:

• GSK’s Cannes Lions-winning Breath of Life campaign

• Merck partnering with Tencent on health awareness

• WebMD partnering with Tencent for consumer education

• Novartis building a cardiology-based platform with Tencent

However, given the rapid increase in healthcare content, there is a chance the healthcare restrictions could change. With that in mind, here is a brief rundown of what’s currently available:

Moments ads

• In-feed ads similar to Facebook newsfeed ads

  • Multiple objectives: Promoting products, apps, websites or the brand’s Official Account, distributing coupons, lead gen, geotargeted physical business promotion
  • 40 Characters
  • Up to 6 still images or one 6-15 second video
  • Two options:
  • Scheduling – Buy on a CPM basis, similar to other digital inventory options, ads appear for a fixed time, guaranteed number of impressions
  • Auction – Similar to Facebook auction with bidding and real-time changes, bid by impressions or clicks, no impression guarantees

• Moments ads do not appear at the top of the feed, but several posts down. They also have a frequency cap of 2x a day.

KOL/influencer advertising

  • WeChat has a highly developed KOL program

Banner ads

  • The same as banner ads in other channels


  • Mini-programs are apps within the WeChat main app
  • Brands can create their own apps, for example: Chat bots, gamification experiences
  • Over 300M daily users as of 2019


  • Ads can be geotargeted to Chinese audiences in over 40 countries
  • Other options include: Device, mobile network used, interests & keyword searches, marital status, parental status & education level, lookalike audiences
  • HCPs cannot be targeted directly – however according to Deloitte, 95% of doctors use WeChat

Next Steps

Establishing a WeChat presence will be essential to any US-based marketing program that has the objective of reaching audiences in China (as well as Chinese audiences around the world) to disseminate educational content, as it is the #1 social platform in the market, and its parent company, Tencent, is fast establishing itself as a healthcare giant in the space. If you’re considering an ex-US campaign in this market, reach out to your CMI/Compas social lead for more information.