Will LinkedIn Break Through China’s Great Firewall?
- Mar 10, 2014
As part of their China market strategy, LinkedIn now has the official Chinese name 领英 (Ling Ying), which literally translates into “leading elites.” The professional social network has also appointed a new Chief of China: Derek Shen, former CEO of the GroupOn-like site Nuomi.com. Since Shen’s appointment on January 15th, we at btrax have been asking the obvious question: Does this US tech company have a chance to win in a region where other social network giants are currently blocked?
No success story yet
LinkedIn has been studying the China market for years, and has never given up hope on market penetration. Back in April 2012, a company called “Lin Ke Yin” LinkedIn Ireland Ltd. Beijing Office was registered with the Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce. This was still an unofficial presence, however. Nominating Shen – who will be responsible for business planning and marketing development in China – marked the official launch of LinkedIn China.
Meanwhile, the China market has been busy pushing out LinkedIn copycats that function within the Great Firewall. Professional network sites like JingWei, DaJie, LiePin, Ushi and Tianji – just to name a few – have been struggling to establish themselves in the fierce competition of LinkedIn–like services. In addition, 51jobs, ZhaoPin and ChinaHR are three major recruitment websites that have all received foreign investment, but none of them have risen as the clear leader.
Signing up on LinkedIn is like betraying your current employer.
~ Delong Ma, CEO of LaGou.com
Skeptics have also raised the concern that the Chinese culture of sensitivity towards job-hopping may hinder adoption of the service in China. In fact, this mindset is not unique to China, but ubiquitous in almost all countries. Perhaps this is why LinkedIn allows its users to adjust privacy settings, hide job application statuses, and view profiles anonymously. To some extent, these features will help lift the cultural obstacle in China.
The breakthrough point: content-rich media
LinkedIn has been busy transforming itself from a job-searching and networking site into a content-rich media site where business luminaries dispense career advice and discuss industry trends. It is this distinguishing factor that may give LinkedIn a step up in the second biggest economic entity.
Zhihu.com, a Quora-like crowdsourcing “question-and-answer” site, has seen high-speed growth since 2011. Zhihu’s success indicates that the market is ready for media in a professional context, with a high user acceptance of knowledge share.
LinkedIn’s professional groups and the LinkedIn Today news timeline offer an online news board and forum for users to know what industry influencers or fellow colleagues are discussing. These features increase user engagement and add a certain “addictive” aspect that encourages people to keep checking their profiles. The media function also helps users to expand and enhance their professional social networks.
But the precondition for LinkedIn China is to build up a certain censorship standard to avoid being blocked – even if the content is mostly about industry and corporate news.
Bridging East and West
For a US-based Internet company exploring the China market, the candidate pool is not that large. Only former employees of Google, Microsoft and Amazon with prior China-related business experience will qualify.
With Microsoft’s focus on the personal computer business, however, they haven’t made many moves in China’s Internet market. Microsoft attempted to test the waters with MSN Messenger, but after battling a shrinking user base, they ultimately decided to merge with Skype. As for Amazon, only in the past two years has it veered from eCommerce to internet services with AWS. Amazon’s China-related employees are still trying to figure out the market.
Thus, only ex-Googlers fit the LinkedIn “potential employee” profile.
Enter Derek Shen, a UCLA grad trained and educated in both western and eastern cultures. Shen’s time as Google’s Head of China Business Development and his years as RenRen’s CEO will serve as valuable experience in his new role at LinkedIn.
LinkedIn has also chosen to enter into a partnership with China Broadband Capital(CBC), which already has an impressive track record. In a rare feat, CBC helped US tech company Evernote successfully tap in to the China market. Evernote reached a milestone on its way East with a standalone China website – a strategy LinkedIn has replicated with their 领英 (Ling Ying) branch site.
Signs of success
As of November 2013, LinkedIn had 3 million Chinese members, despite only having a mobile Chinese version and an unofficially announced site at LinkedIn.cn. That number has increased to 4 million since Shen’s appointment was announced.
Instead of launching a costly ad campaign that treats China’s well-established social networks as direct competitors, LinkedIn has integrated with WeChat and is working on a partnership with Sina Weibo to drive organic onboarding activities.
LinkedIn has been pretty prudent with their localization strategy in China so far, and the opportunity is still there for the professional social network leader. All of these factors lead me to believe that they do indeed have a big chance to win in China this time around.
Photo by: Nan Palmero
Written by: Jenkin Yin Xia