LinkedIn gets late Christmas present from Chinese rival Tianji as parent Viadeo pulls the plug after failing to keep pace with mobile telephony revolution

Site’s sudden shutdown on Sunday leaves 25m China-based users in limbo

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 4:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 5:46pm

Professional networking service LinkedIn has been struggling to gain a foothold in China since it arrived in 2014, but it received a late Christmas present from domestic rival Tianji on Sunday when the latter announced that it would be shutting down.

Tianji left its 25 million China-based users in limbo with the surprise move, which was apparently motivated by its parent company Viadeo’s desire to refocus its energies on its users in Europe.

A message on Tianji’s website informs visitors that it ended its services by December 27. It redirects users to Viadeo, the professional social networking launched in Paris in 2004.

Tianji also said that in order to protect user privacy, all the site’s data will be deleted, leaving no way for its users to save any of their information.

Viadeo acquired its Chinese subsidiary in 2007 to tap the world’s biggest internet market. Prior to the shutdown, Viadeo claimed to have 65 million users worldwide.

In a statement, it said it had decided to shift its focus to the French market, and would be shutting down the Tianji branch in China before the end of the year.

Increasing Tianji’s user base in China’s “fiercely competitive market” would require “considerable development resources”, it added.

“China’s business networks market has undergone substantial transformation in recent years, mainly due to the explosion of mobile telephony, changing usage patterns considerably,” the company said.

“Despite Viadeo’s significant local adaptation efforts, the mobile revolution combined with maintaining a competitive offer in China would require heavy capital investment by the company.”

“Although Tianji had the largest market share in professional networking [in China] … its adoption and popularity is far less than [Twitter-like] Weibo or [Tencent’s mobile messaging tool] WeChat’s dominance in general social networking,” said Xiaofeng Wang, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

Viadeo originally planned to use a portion of the capital raised from its initial public offering last year to develop Tianji, but the company said later that the listing didn’t raise as much as was hoped.

The decision to exit China was also fueled by Viadeo’s failure to find a suitable investor or partner to provide Tianji with the necessary resources to grow in the country, it said.

Viadeo was unavailable to comment on the matter when contacted by the South China Morning Post.

Yet the move spells good news for LinkedIn China, which claims 13 million users. It has been aggressively expanding recently to gobble up more of the market, and even inked a deal with market-leading car-hailing app Didi Kuaidi in September to improve user experience and give both brands a boost in China.

While a late entrance to the China market, US-based LinkedIn adopted a Chinese name and launched a Chinese language site to appeal to local users.

But it still struggled with widespread adoption as it competed with local professional networking sites like Tianji and Dajie, which boasts over 30 million users.

“Linkedin is gradually gaining its position by investing in Chinese localisation with a series of marketing campaigns,” said Wang.

“It has been tough for Western social media players to enter the Chinese market. Professional networking is the only area where mainstream Western social platforms have managed to have a presence.”

In June, LinkedIn China launched a separate professional networking app called Red Rabbit to target young white collars. Red Rabbit and LinkedIn agreed to operate in China simultaneously as part of a dual-brand strategy, said LinkedIn China CEO Derek Shen at a start-up conference in November.