* Jobs networking site targets China as new growth source
* Mainland Chinese language site means self-censorship
* China workforce has different take on networking -rivals
By Paul Carsten
BEIJING, June 16 After taking a social media
drubbing in the West for accepting self-censorship in China,
jobs networking site LinkedIn Corp faces bigger
obstacles to growth in a market it is counting on - local rivals
and a unique workforce mindset.
LinkedIn is intent on making the kind of breakthrough in
China that eluded Internet giants like Google Inc,
Yahoo Inc and Amazon.com Inc. To do that,
beyond coping with censorship, it must match big domestic
players, already tuned into a generation of self-styled Internet
"losers" with their own, irreverent take on corporate culture.
Earlier this month, the West's most popular online career
network censored posts from users in China marking 25 years
since Beijing's crackdown on pro-democracy activists in
Tiananmen Square. If that earned LinkedIn scorn on Western
social media, it passed largely unnoticed within mainland China,
and Wall Street investors were unmoved.
"The LinkedIn mission is to connect all the world's
professionals, and the country with the most professionals in
the world is China," Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of the firm
based in Mountain View, California, said at a Shanghai
presentation last month. Established local peers like Dajie,
Wealink and Tianji - with over 60 million members between them -
stand in the way.
The stakes are high for LinkedIn, which launched in China in
February saying it would co-operate with the censorship climate
that global social media sites like Facebook Inc and
Twitter Inc have shunned. The company said then a
localised site would help it reach 140 million professionals in
the world's second-biggest economy - a boon for a company
seeking to expand its current audience of 277 million members as
it saturates developed markets.
Some 10 years after it was founded as a site to connect
jobseekers with recruiters, LinkedIn's net income rose by a
quarter last year to $26.8 million. A year earlier, it nearly
The newcomer's strategy for China appears deceptively simple
- to offer Chinese-speakers professional networking on a global
scale in their own language. It's a strategy viewed with
scepticism by rivals - and by some of LinkedIn's own existing
members among China's skilled workforce, fluent in English and
already accessing the site for contacts with the rest of the
"I don't see any necessity for the switch from English to a
Chinese version because 99 percent of Chinese users of LinkedIn
are very high level and English language is not a problem to
them," said Xia, who works in public relations and has used
LinkedIn for four years. Xia declined to give his full name,
citing censorship sensitivities.
Asked to comment on prospects and local competition in China
for this story, LinkedIn said it was focused on localising its
site for Chinese professionals and connecting them with other
professionals around the globe.
Localising effectively is a gambit that attempts to do what
Google and others could not.
"We're currently trying hard to break the spell of
international Internet firms struggling in China," Derek Shen,
LinkedIn China's president, said at last month's Shanghai event.
LinkedIn has added 1 million users since its high-profile
launch of Chinese-language operations and now has more than five
million members on its China site. That leaves it a long way
behind still-growing local professional networking sites such as
Dajie (27 million members), Wealink (20 million members) and
Tianji (14 million), as well as jobs boards like 51job Inc
and Zhaopin. In the same period as LinkedIn
grew by 1 million users, Dajie said it had added 2 million.
Domestic competitors like Dajie agree localisation is
crucial. But they are unsure if the company's Western image will
appeal to China's Internet-friendly workforce, many of whom
proudly refer to themselves "diaosi", or "losers" - an
expression of a more detached attitude to work and careers than
is usually made public by ambitious professionals in the West.
"Really, Dajie's and LinkedIn's models are similar, but
there are very big differences in the actual products and
operations," said Susan Wang, Dajie's chief executive, in an
e-mail to Reuters.
"Dajie works to satisfy the needs of the post-80s and
post-90s 'loser' generation of users, and pays more attention to
the freshness of the product, and the need to feel lively," Wang
"LinkedIn tends more towards satisfying users who are in the
more cautious traditional European and American business
systems, a logical social networking attitude, focusing on
coldly benefiting users' careers to drive the site."
On top of professional networking, Dajie differentiates
itself by letting users publish commentaries on companies, make
fun of their workplace, evaluate their employers and "fool
around", said Wang.
LinkedIn may not yet be doing enough to connect with the
professional Chinese audience it is targeting, according to Wang
Xiaofeng, a Beijing-based analyst with Forrester Research.
"When they entered China officially they used a Chinese
name, 'Lingying', and used a Chinese version of the website, but
there's still not much Chinese content available," she said.
Wang said LinkedIn still has a lot of potential in China,
but the key will be offering more Chinese content and
industry-specific networking for professionals, something it has
so far failed to do.
Censorship remains an area to be negotiated with care.
China's demands on Internet firms wanting to do business there
have seen off, or damaged the reputations of two of Silicon
Valley's big hitters, Google and Yahoo.
Like LinkedIn, Google agreed to censorship when it launched
its China search site in 2006. But its fortunes quickly waned
after a 2010 dispute with the government on self-censoring
search results. It decamped to Hong Kong and by May this year
Google had less than 1 percent of China's search engine market,
according to Beijing-based data firm CNZZ.
Yahoo suffered damage to its reputation and share price at
home after it was revealed the company had handed over a Chinese
dissident's e-mail details to Beijing in 2004.
"While technologically and financially you are giants,
morally you are pygmies," the then-chairman of the House Foreign
Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos, told Yahoo executives in a
Washington hearing in 2007. Yahoo's share price fell 10 percent
in the week following the hearing, after having already lost 13
percent of its value the preceding week.
Back in China, views on how censorship might affect
LinkedIn's prospects reflect the way members of jobs networks
use the sites.
"I don't know if there are people posting some sensitive
content on LinkedIn and I don't see why," said LinkedIn member
Xia. "For me, it is only a platform to find a better job. I
never read other things on it."
(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom and Anita Li and Adam Jourdan in
SHANGHAI; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)