Corporate China

Weibo: Xiaomi buzzes In Singapore, LinkedIn hires in Beijing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 3:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 2:58pm

Executives from smartphone sensation Xiaomi were playing their usual marketing tricks in the microblogging realm this past week, trumpeting an online promotion in the run-up to a more formal launch next month in Singapore, the first stop on the company's global expansion. Meantime, US professional networking giant LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD) was moving more quietly in the other direction into China, where its recently hired top executive was tweeting about his ongoing hiring efforts as the company builds up a local operation.

I can't help but do a little armchair analysis about Xiaomi's Singapore launch, which is in the hands of Hugo Barra, a former US-based executive at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) who came to Xiaomi in a high-profile defection last year. Xiaomi's chief executive and marketing guru Lei Jun has made it clear that Barra will head the company's global expansion this year, following its successful moves into the Greater China markets of Taiwan and Hong Kong last year. But it looks like Barra still has much to learn from his marketing master, as evidenced by what looks to me like a slightly sloppy first effort in Singapore.

Xiaomi previously announced plans to launch its newest third-generation, mid-range Mi3 model in Singapore on March 7, but conducted an online promotion there last Friday for its lower-end Redmi model selling for the equivalent of about $133. That promotion saw Xiaomi later trumpet that it had sold out all of its inventory within 8 minutes, similar to claims it made when holding similar promotions last December for the same model in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

But in Singapore Xiaomi declined to disclose exactly how many units it sold in that 8 minute frenzy, unlike Hong Kong and Taiwan where each promotion involved 10,000 Redmi handsets, known in Chinese as Hongmi. That lack of disclosure led some to question whether the Singapore promotion was just a stunt involving a very small number of smartphones, while others said the company was engaging in its usual "hunger marketing" tricks of creating artificial shortages to generate buzz.

Barra himself was buzzing on his Chinese microblog before the promotion, declaring that Xioami had been formally "Singaporised" and saying the company would soon roll out a model with a specially customised theme for Singapore. (microblog post) Barra's big fan base of more than 350,000 followers wasn't too impressed by the post, with only 204 giving it the "thumbs up" and just 175 re-posting it nearly a week after the original message. Lei Jun was careful to promote the effort but leave most of the talking to Barra, simply calling the Singapore launch "Barra's first battle". (microblog post)

Xiaomi co-founder Lin Bin also made a post about the launch, but again gave mostly factual information and prominently mentioned Barra's nickname, which translates roughly to "Brother Tiger". (microblog post) Perhaps I'm being a bit too hard on Barra, as he wasn't really a marketing guy when he was at Google. But clearly he has a sharp learning curve to climb if he wants to replicate Xiaomi's hugely successful marketing tactics outside China.

From Xiaomi and Barra, let's move quickly to Derek Shen, who is being both low-key but also trying to remain visible as he embarks on the challenge of building up LinkedIn's business in China. Global social networking (SNS) leader Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) has been blocked in China since 2009, but LinkedIn, which targets white-collar professionals, so far is still accessible and hopes to stay that way. Shen was hired in January with a mandate to build up LinkedIn's China business, while also avoiding the kinds of politically sensitive content that many believe led to Facebook's getting blocked.

Since that time, he has chronicled his move into his company's new offices in Beijing, and last week on his microblog was discussing his recent staffing of the operation. His post on the subject was relatively mundane, saying he had already received nearly 2,000 applications for an unspecified number of positions. (microblog post)

He does imply that LinkedIn's initial hiring will be relatively limited, with a focus on management and human resources professionals. He adds that he just made his first hire a day earlier, and calls on others looking for jobs at the company to be patient. From his postings so far, I do get the sense that both Shen and LinkedIn will take a very slow and careful approach to China in their bid to avoid problems, which looks like a good way to proceed to me.

To read more commentaries from Doug Young, visit