American internet companies have found success hard to come by in China.
Facebook was blocked in 2009 amid claims that it was used by Xinjiang independence activists as their main communications network. Twitter tried to make it and failed a year later, and Google’s exit in 2010 came after a bitter row with the Chinese government over censorship.
Success in China comes at a cost. The internet companies which have experienced prosperity there have paid the price in data and control. The Chinese government demands free rein to censor what it wants, and companies must be prepared to hand over any data it requests. Then, and only then, are they free to operate in the country’s ever developing market.
The sacrifices needed to thrive in China were too much for Facebook, Twitter and Google, but it seems that LinkedIn has found the right formula. They recently topped 10 million users in China, with their Asia Pacific division growing by 64% last quarter. As reported by Bloomberg, the region is now LinkedIn’s fastest growing sector, and is having a significant impact on bottom-line company profits.
LinkedIn found success where so many of its peers failed because it treated its China branch as a separate entity. Had they treated it like a satellite office - one which was completely submissive to the company’s head office - there would not have been the scope to tailor the LinkedIn product to the Chinese audience. LinkedIn China - or Lingying in Mandarin - was founded as a joint venture with Dragon Networking. According to Li Hui, this gave the company the opportunity to be ‘more entrepreneurial’ and ‘innovate locally’.
Advertising has played an important part too, with many subways in Beijing carrying celebrity endorsements. On LinkedIn China’s homepage you’re greeted by well known angel investor - Xu Xiaoping - and pop star, Haiquan. These have spoken directly to the Chinese public, and allowed them to attract people who are drawn to a variety of different career options. An App’s on the way too - it’s at the beta-testing stage currently - and is called ‘Chi Tu’, which directly translates to ‘red rabbit’ in English, but is more commonly used to refer to ‘talent’. It’s hoped that this will give LinkedIn the platform to target China’s youth.
But this alone isn’t enough to make it in the world’s most populous country. LinkedIn have openly stated that they filter content on the site, which makes China an anomaly for them. You cant blame them for making an exception - China has an internet user base of 645 million, more than twice as many as the United States. They best toe the line, though, or all that progress could be quashed as quickly as it started.