WeChat viral marketing: what are the risks?

Thomas Graziani WeChat guides & tips

What is the best way to gain followers on WeChat? Most marketers would give you the same answer: give money, a free sample or a discount to users, and they will gladly share any of your content.

This practice however has a name: incentivised sharing, and it is forbidden by WeChat terms of use. So what are the risks?

What are the rules for WeChat viral marketing?

To put it simply, any kind of incentive for reshares, likes or follows is forbidden by Tencent. Users should share content only because they find it interesting enough for that.

It is, among other things, forbidden to reward users if they:

  • Follow your account
  • Share your content
  • Like your message
  • If their friends shares your content (multi-layer incentives)
  • “Statistic” wins are also forbidden (ex: share and you get a chance to win something)
  • Discounts or other non-material and non-monetary rewards are also forbidden for all the above actions

What are the sanctions?

The consequences for incentivized sharing are gradual depending on the number of infractions. The first time might simply cost you a warning or a temporary freeze of the advanced functions of your account (menus, messaging, etc…) while repeated offence can lead to the deletion of your account.

Tencent published before Chinese New Year the following graph of sanctions for accounts giving “red envelopes” to users which would follow them.


What happens in practice?

That was the theory. In practice, the paradigm for WeChat viral marketing is a bit different: so many brands are engaging in incentivized sharing that WeChat can hardly track them all, and more and more are getting bold enough to break the terms of use in order to grow their followers base.

This is true for small and big brands. Uber, for instance, recently launched a (or another, as they do that all the time, being experts of viral marketing) campaign giving discounts in exchange for reshares.


The campaign was rather successful, leading to 50,000+ views and surely quite a few additional customers for Uber.

In practice: if the numbers remain in the thousands and that no other users report the viral campaign, the risks remain low. But you can never be sure that both of these conditions will be satisfied.

Suning: an example of WeChat viral marketing campaign getting blocked

Suning has always taken an extremely bold approach at WeChat marketing: simply not caring about Tencent terms of use.

One of their most successful campaigns was a “swipe” game: you received a card with 4 gray squares, and cool scratch one of them to reveal a phone.

If the 4 squares have similar phones, you win one. But here is the thing: you can only reveal one of the squares. To reveal the 3 others and see if you won, you need to forward the message to your friends who need to swipe the remaining phones for you. And your friends are then of course invited to play the same game.

wechat viral marketing

This incredibly well-designed campaign got millions of clicks and filled our WeChat moments for almost 24 hours… after which it could no longer remain unnoticed by Tencent, and got banned.

However, even if Suning got a small blame from Tencent, it is arguable that the risk was worth the rewards: the visibility in terms of marketing for this simple campaign was incredible, worth millions of branding done via other channels. And Suning sure-enough kept breaking the terms of use after this episode, by offering red envelopes and other items or discounts to their followers.

In conclusion

WeChat viral marketing is an extremely efficient way to acquire new followers, but it comes at a risk. If you know you can manage the size of your campaign and keep it focused in time and scope, this risk is likely to be manageable. Established brands might stick to concepts which fit perfectly within Tencent terms of use, especially as they have budgets to compensate for this lack of virality. But for guerrilla marketers aiming for fast growth and ready to face the potential risks, they are the way to go.

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