Work-related communications have changed a lot since the pandemic hit last January. In China, increased remote working, coupled with intermittent challenges travelling domestically and virtually non-existent trips in and out of China, have seen digital communications become ever more important for business-to-business operations. This is particularly relevant for foreign businesses communicating with teams, distributors and other partners on the ground in China. For many, WeChat has been the go-to for both group and individual communications.
But late last month, managers at at least nine state-run companies including China Mobile, China Construction Bank and China National Petroleum Corp told employees that they needed to shut down and delete any group chats set up for work purposes due to the risk of sensitive information leaking from the platforms. The employees were also told to be cautious about using WeChat for any work-related communications.
Whilst none of the companies have publicly announced any security concerns with WeChat, their actions send a clear message. State-run companies are much closer to Beijing than most businesses in China, and are considered to be ‘in-the-know’ for many matters. As a result, it is likely that other companies, and potentially some consumers, will follow their lead in shifting communications to other platforms.
A survey back in 2017 found 83% of WeChat’s active users use it for work. WeChat’s ubiquity has seen it become a powerful channel for B2B operations, not just for communications and promotion, but also the many extended services that allow business dealings to operate much more efficiently and easily.
WeChat is likely to continue to play a part in many business dealings in China, but the recent security concerns will increase the drift to other, more secure platforms. Such services include Tencent’s enterprise solution WeCom (formerly WeChat Work) and Alibaba’s DingTalk which have become standard fare with China’s workers since the pandemic. Dingtalk is the biggest, adding another 100 million users between January and August this year, to clock a total of 500 million users.
Foreign brands who aren’t already using these enterprise tools, may find them useful to communicate to teams and partners in China, particularly if any dialogue involves confidential information. China’s authorities have the ability to tap into communications and data from any platform hosted within the Great Firewall, but overall, the enterprise tools are believed to be more secure than consumer-focused services.
After being largely apathetic for years, concerns about privacy have increased recently in China, particularly over the past few months with the introduction of new privacy laws. China’s new personal data law is among the strictest in the world, drawing inspiration from Europe’s GDPR but going further. In addition to regulating how businesses in China can use data, the new law has made privacy top of mind for many consumers and business partners, which should be factored into decisions about how you and your business communicates in and to China.
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