WeChat is indisputably a powerful tool for both publishers and scientific organizations to improve their outreach in China. Beyond its basic functions, WeChat offers mini-programs, “sub-applications” in the WeChat ecosystem that can be leveraged to attract and engage users to a brand. According to iimedia, by 2020, WeChat mini-programs had more than 4 billion daily active users. Since their launch in 2017, the number of per capita users has increased by 25%, the transaction amount per mini-program has increased by 67%, the number of active mini-programs has increased by 75%, and the number of trading mini-programs has increased by 68%. In 2020, the annual transaction volume of mini-programs increased by more than 100%. This article provides a brief overview of mini-programs and how publishers and societies can make use of them to expand their WeChat presence.

What are mini-programs?

WeChat mini-programs are sub-applications that can be accessed by scanning a QR code or searching within WeChat. This reduces the time of download and installation, thereby meeting the demand for easier, quicker, and smarter applications.

Why mini-programs are popular

WeChat mini-programs have been widely adopted across industries because of six powerful features:

First, the name of the mini-program is unique; it is the same as the domain name and the network real name (whoever registers first owns the name). This feature allows the publisher or society to maintain its brand identity and image.

Second, the “all-in-one” design of mini-programs provides great convenience for users. They do not need to spend time in download and installation, mini-programs are easily searchable, and users can interact with other applications. As academic researchers are typically hard-pressed for time, a mini-program that helps them save time is likely to appeal to this audience.

Third, mini-programs can integrate with online shopping systems seamlessly, both for mobile devices and PCs. Fourth, mini-programs have multiple access pathways, such as by scanning a QR code, searching within WeChat, and hyperlinking in WeChat articles. This makes it comparatively easier for a publisher or society to promote their mini-program. Fifth, mini-programs have strong transmission ability. Finally, mini-programs support various APIs, enabling easier customer service and improving customer communication.

Differences between a WeChat account and mini-program

Several of the world’s leading publishers have started using WeChat accounts for outreach in China, but not many have explored the full potential of WeChat mini-programs. There are some differences between accounts and mini-programs. First, a mini-program is an application: once the function or settings have been changed, the application needs to go through the app approval procedure, and this procedure is more rigid than the procedure for just a WeChat account. Second, mini-programs can be developed only by using the WeChat development tool, while WeChat account functions can be developed using any development tools. However, mini-programs are more powerful than WeChat accounts in supporting user interactions, as described earlier.

How can scientific organizations or publishers use mini-programs?

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) WeChat account has a mini-program named Periodical Division Table of the Center for Documentation and Information, Chinese Academy of Sciences. This mini-program provides three main services: searching for journal rankings, institutional account login, and information navigation. In a WeChat account, this level of user interaction and information exchange is not possible. Mini-programs enable publishers and research societies to increase user stickiness, reduce application development and operation costs, improve the accuracy of user data statistics, and facilitate multi-channel sharing for better publicity and to reach more end users. Through mini-programs, publishers can offer specific services or solutions to meet the needs of their WeChat audiences.

Below are some screenshots for how CAS uses WeChat mini-programs.

How to set up a mini-program

Setting up a mini-program is not as complex as it seems, if you follow the below steps.

  • Ascertain what functions of mini-programs you need.
  • Scan the QR code in the screenshot below and register the name of your mini-program.
  • Ask your experts in HTML+CSS+JS to develop the mini-program by following the developer framework. Check the developer forum for details.
  • Submit the code of your mini-program to the WeChat approval panel for approval.


As journals, publishers, and scientific societies attempt to engage more and more with the Chinese research community, it will become increasingly necessary for them to not just adopt but also fully optimize their use of local communication channels like WeChat. Mini-programs are a valuable feature that can complement and enhance a publisher’s or society’s WeChat strategy by making it easier, faster, and more convenient for users to obtain the information they want.


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