In China, major international social media typically have their homegrown counterparts that control the domestic market. Think Weibo (微博, outside China popularly referred to as China’s Twitter), Youku (优酷, China’s Youtube), Renren (人人网, China’s Facebook) etc., which, apart from being aimed exclusively at Chinese language speakers, all achieve essentially the same objectives as their global equivalents. LinkedIn – the world’s most popular professional networking website – seems to be an exception; unlike the aforementioned foreign social media applications, this particular professional networking service might have the chance to accomplish a feat all but abandoned: connect China to the World.
LinkedIn currently boasts 238 million users throughout the globe with approximately two new members hopping on the bandwagon every minute. However, China seemingly occupies a place all too insignificant in LinkedIn’s member base with only about three million members in China (by comparison, the US accounted for 74 million users, India for 18, and the Netherlands for 4). Why hasn’t LinkedIn had its breakthrough in China?
When doing business in China, face-to-face meetings are essential and getting to know one another before settling any deals is the rule. Business relationships are forged at the dinner table (often accompanied by several toasts of baijiu), rather than from behind a computer screen. Tianji founder and chief executive Derek Ling argues professional social networks have grown more slowly in China because the LinkedIn model does not fit China’s environment. Touching on LinkedIn’s cultural compatibility in China, Ling points out that “LinkedIn users frequently get requests such as ‘I need such and such,’ or ‘I need to hire so and so.’ In China, it would be ‘uncool’ to state those requests directly.” Local competitors of LinkedIn will be likely to have an edge in dealing with Chinese cultural sensibilities.
Perhaps related to its ambiguous commitment to the Chinese market, LinkedIn has yet to localize its website for China (i.e. LinkedIn’s current Chinese membership has at least a basic understanding of English). A Chinese language version would accommodate increased numbers of Chinese users joining LinkedIn’s ranks. However, considering the competition and cultural issues involved, it should be reemphasized that seizing the Chinese domestic market isn’t simply a matter of translating the user interface. Despite this fact, LinkedIn does enjoy one advantage that competitors are unlikely to match – Chinese domestic service providers just don’t pack the punch to transcend national boundaries. Resembling the other Chinese internet giants, they are largely inward-looking to the Chinese language sphere. Few would disagree this outlook misses out on the great opportunities today’s globalized business environment offers. Conversely, if LinkedIn manages to gain a firm foothold in China, it should have what it takes to face the great challenge of bridging online professional networking East to West.
This article was published in the 2013 edition of HQ magazine, a publication of CSOFT International. If you’re interested in learning more about CSOFT’s globalization and localization solutions, don’t forget to visit csoftintl.com!