Digital Business Cards Spreading Fast in Japan

Courtesy of Sansan Inc.
A digital wallpaper sample for a participant in a teleconference provided by Sansan Inc. When other participants read the QR code embedded in the image with a smartphone, they can see the participant’s digital business card.

A year ago, exchanging business cards face-to-face was nothing out of the ordinary. But amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, videoconferencing has been surging and many businesspeople have found themselves in virtual meetings where paper business cards are nowhere to be found. To keep up with the technological shift, many are now keeping their cards in their cases and are instead turning to smartphone apps, QR codes and security-enabled cyber tools to exchange contact information in an age of digitally fueled meeting spaces.

After meeting several potential clients in online meetings where no business cards were exchanged, a 49-year-old worker at a company in Tokyo became frustrated with the lack of contact information.

“Because they don’t give me business cards [at online meetings], I run into trouble when I want to contact them later,” he said.

As he was a sales rep for new customers, the issue had significant negative impact on his work. When he was able to exchange paper business cards in person, he had a clear record of names, job titles and the names of the departments of where people worked. The cards also served as a convenient ice-breaker as he could ask potential customers the correct way to pronounce the kanji characters in their names. But with the rise of videoconferencing — used even when meeting people for the first time — those days are potentially on the chopping block.

■ Using links, QR codes

Digital business cards can provide contact information such as phone numbers and email addresses to other participants in an online meeting. While such information can easily be included on paper business cards or in follow-up emails, digital business cards can transmit additional information such as digital profile photos, scanned images of business cards and other images. One of the most common methods of sharing online business cards has been via a link in an email or a chat service and companies are now in the process of developing more tools to facilitate the online exchange of business cards.

Sansan Inc., a major business-card-management company based in Tokyo, added a new function to its cloud-based card management system, which is also called Sansan. By using the function, users can easily make links for their digital business cards, and those who have received the links can take photos of their paper business cards and attach them in their replies.

In November, the company started supplying digital wallpaper with a QR code included. When a user displays the wallpaper as their background image in a videoconference, other participants can scan the QR code with their smartphones and receive the user’s business contact information.

The Line messaging app also started in July a free business card management service called myBridge, which lets users make and send digital business cards.

■ Security considerations

The “sharability” of digital business cards means that one “card” can potentially be distributed to countless people. However, as the card owners may not know who has access to their contact information, security concerns have risen as a result. To meet this threat, Tokyo-based paper product manufacturer Yamazakura Co. plans to launch a high-security online business card exchange, possibly in February, 2021. Their service, which is called Name Room, allows those who have received a digital business card via the service to forward it to a third party. The forwarded digital business card does not include a save function and can only be viewed by the third party for a preset amount of time. Furthermore, the system automatically logs user information when a digital business card is sent from an account as well as the number of cards sent.

Business card consultant Takehiro Fukuda is positive about development of digital business cards.

“If you send it before a teleconference, it becomes a useful tool for the recipients because they can do advance research on your company. It will be in more use from now on,” he said, “Now that there are fewer opportunities for us to meet people in person, paper business cards will have a new role of making such encounters special. I hope people will find clever uses for both digital and paper business cards.”