Censorship the least of LinkedIn's China hurdles

Threat from local rivals and need for relevance with workforce more pressing for network site

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 5:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 5:13am

After taking a social media drubbing in the West for accepting self-censorship in China, jobs networking site LinkedIn 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, Yahoo and Amazon.com 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 of the June 4 crackdown. 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," co-founder Reid Hoffman said in Shanghai last month. Local peers like Dajie, Wealink and Tianji - with more than 60 million members between them - stand in the way.

The stakes are high for the firm, which launched in China in February saying it would co-operate with the censorship climate that global social media sites like Facebook and Twitter 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 firm 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 US$26.8 million. A year earlier, it nearly doubled.

The newcomer's strategy for China appears deceptively simple: to offer Chinese-speakers professional networking on a global scale in their own language. It is 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 world.