It is now common knowledge that the “super-app” WeChat has become an essential service in China, deeply integrated in both personal and professional lives. Journalists are no exception – the app helps to get their job done. It’s on WeChat that they contact sources, set up interviews, communicate with editors, and sometimes, publish their stories. But for expat journalists in China, who are relative newcomers to the country’s tech ecosystem, how are they finding this tool that defines work culture here, and how do they see and use it as a work communication tool?
To answer that question, we have interviewed several journalists from outside of mainland China but now live there, about their experience of and opinion on using WeChat as a work tool. They also offer their advice on how PR people could best use the IM tool when contacting them. Spoiler: they all love using WeChat.Beth Roulston, Editor-in-Chief of Shanghai Family
I find WeChat a far more efficient program for communicating, sending documents and gathering information. It's my most used program on a daily basis. Instead of typing out each of my colleague's name / email address in email, which takes considerable time and effort, I can simply add a file into a WeChat group and then everyone in this group can easily access this on the go or in the office.
I use emails for formal communication such as acquiring final confirmations from clients in regard to published content. This is because WeChat does on occasion fail / not send properly / lose messages. Email is also more reliable for showing a clear timeline of communication. WeChat is fast and convenient, so I use it for in-house communication or for quick communication with clients. Elaine Yau, covers culture for the South China Morning Post in Beijing
I rate WeChat as super efficient as a work tool versus traditional means for work. As a journalist, I use WeChat to set up interviews and for gathering information. WeChat is used by 99% of people in China, so when I am looking for interviewees or contacting people for work, I mostly use WeChat, which is way faster at reaching people than any other contact methods. The app is also a good source of information. For info gathering I would search for stories on WeChat that are related to my topics, and I also like it that you can look at people's “friends circle” to get the latest news for work tips.Gozde Celik, Reporter at KrAsia, covers technology companies
After coming to China, I found WeChat a must for me. I talk with people on WeChat, find jobs through WeChat groups, make payments, and even finding apartments to rent. In the workplace, I use Email in more official and formal occasions but use WeChat for more informal situations. If I am in a rush to make contacts with people, WeChat is the best choice. When I try to reach commentators or a person for an interview, they reply faster on WeChat compared to other channels.
However, it is not nice when the app is excessively used for work purposes. It makes me nervous to receive hundreds of work notifications from an app that I also use for personal purposes.Tanya Van Gastel, Contributing Writer at Vogue Business in China
WeChat is faster and more informal – I find it much easier to build personal rapport over WeChat than over email. Both my favourite and least favourite thing about WeChat is that it allows me to stay connected to my network. In that sense however, it's challenging that WeChat contacts generally require very quick responses – within one to two hours. I personally appreciate time spent offline and take extra care to close off my WeChat and be unavailable for a couple of hours a day.Jeffrey Moeller, Editor at People.cn with a focus on Sino-German relations
WeChat is just absolutely essential in Mainland China and I use it for literally everything. In terms of work, I think WeChat is a less formal, shorter style of communication tool. I have most of my business contacts on WeChat, and it has also almost replaced business cards or emails. I do everything business-related on WeChat, talking to sources, setting up interviews or gathering information in specific groups or on official accounts.
WeChat enables an easier and quicker form of communication than, for example, email but you also have to be careful about what you post as most people use the same WeChat account for both personal and business activities. I like its practicality but I don’t like that it blurs the lines between personal and professional life.Luis Campos, Shanghai-based Freelance Writer covering food and drinks
I heard of WeChat but didn't use it much in Argentina. After starting my life in China, WeChat plays the most indispensable role among all social tools in my work and life. I use this popular tool for various uses like networking, paying, as well as navigation.
As a Freelance Writer, WeChat is a big part of my work life since most of my work communications take place there. Besides, it is useful for me to collect information as many restaurants use WeChat public accounts to post very timely news. LinkedIn is also very important, but it stands at the second place compared with WeChat. I rarely use email now, except for communication with people outside China.Warren Singh-Bartlett, News Editor at CGTN English
I did not use WeChat before coming to China. I was required to download it while abroad as my job interview took place on WeChat. I now use it for both work and personal purposes. In terms of work, it is indispensable. Most of my work meetings post-COVID take place through it, as well as the exchange of articles, information gathering, and receiving/sending show outlines for editing. It is an essential tool.
Comparing WeChat to other work communication tools – Email would be more awkward – no group chats, no virtual meetings, inability to work jointly on a single project. I have a work email address, but I barely use it. I reserve email almost exclusively for communicating with friends / contacts outside of China (and use Google for that).
My only complaint would be the incessant stream of messages, though the pings can be silenced. Also, the fact that colleagues are less inclined to respect working hours, and routinely send queries outside of working hours, and even on weekends – though I suspect that has more to do with Chinese work culture than WeChat.Advices for PRs
While facilitating communication at work, the omnipresence of WeChat has its pitfalls. As some of our interviewees mentioned, WeChat brings about the “incessant stream of messages” and that it “blurs the lines between personal and professional life”. To address these concerns, they offer some thoughts on how PR people out there can best use this tool to contact them:
- Do respect their working hours when sending messages on WeChat.
- Journalists get a lot of random and unclear friend requests. When adding a media contact over WeChat, make sure to state your intent or background when sending the friend request.
- Do send a solid first message with a full introduction and reason for contact.
- It would be good practice to also provide your other contact details (email, etc.) as journalist might sometimes prefer the more traditional ways of communication.
- The constant beeping of work message notifications can be annoying – send messages in full instead of in bits to avoid that.
- Do check the language of the person you are contacting. Even if the journalist can read multiple languages, make the effort to at least write your first sentence in his / her native language.
- Keep the message short and to the point, avoid making spelling / grammar mistakes, and be polite and positive when communicating.