Enterprise WeChat is not WeChat Enterprise…right?
At the end of last week, Chinese tech company Tencent, and creator of mobile messaging giant WeChat, announced that they would be launching a brand new app, ‘Enterprise WeChat’ (Chinese: Qǐyè Wēixìn) toward the beginning of Q2–2016. The immediate question that many people asked was, ‘Didn’t they do that already?’ It’s time to clear up a few points, and answer a few questions that I’ve received.
Didn’t I already read something about Enterprise WeChat?
The trick here is in the wording. What you read about last year was the launch of WeChat’s ‘Enterprise Accounts’ (Qǐyè-hào), a third kind of WeChat official account in addition to Subscription and Service Accounts. While the latter are public accounts designed to drive content into WeChat on behalf of companies, Enterprise Accounts were created to allow companies to use WeChat for inter-company messaging without interfering too much with users’ personal usage of the app.
Basically, a company could create a channel of ‘chats’ related to that company, and invite people to participate in those chats, which could be separated by department, team, etc. However, all chats related to that company would be stored on a user’s phone under a single chat tab, making it less intrusive and easier to find.
Before that, Chinese people were just using WeChat as a business messaging tool?
Yes, pretty much. WeChat is so ubiquitous and so fast that it made sense for companies to set up a work group chat, and invite everyone in. Every company I have worked for in China has done the same thing. Group chats on their own are not incredibly effective, but if it’s going to be done and you’re in China, it might as well be done in WeChat.
“In fact, take-up of WeChat Enterprise Accounts has been very low.”
The issue in this question is the phrase ‘before that’ — in fact, take-up of WeChat Enterprise Accounts has been very low. For most companies, the old work group chat model continues to be used, right alongside a WeChat user’s personal chats.
Except for the name, what are the differences between Enterprise Accounts and Enterprise WeChat?
The biggest difference that’s immediately apparent is that Enterprise WeChat will be a separate app. Details are scarce and so the exact features remain unclear, but the screens that have been released make it look very similar to WeChat itself. The main addition appears to be the ability to ‘snooze’ the app, allowing a user to choose to not receive messages during periods they declare themselves to be ‘on break’ or ‘off work’.
This is beginning to sound an awful lot like Slack…
Nail on the head. Enterprise WeChat would seem to be an attempt to apply Slack-type enterprise messaging features to an app that the Chinese market already knows and is very comfortable using. Slack and its competitors have not really taken off in China, and so it is likely that Tencent sees this as a market opportunity.
But is it a good opportunity?
Quite possibly not. There is generally a willingness in China for people to mix business and pleasure, certainly when it comes to mobile usage. In some ways, having business and work contacts in your personal WeChat and allowing them to see photos that you have posted, whether from a trip out or a night on the town, helps to close the gap between you and professional contacts. This is very much a normal part of Chinese business culture, and so it looks like Tencent is trying to solve a problem that isn’t really a problem.
In short, there is a reason why no enterprise messaging app has yet carved out a significant market share in China, and no reason to believe that one will.