Take two for LinkedIn China with new youth-focused app Red Rabbit as job networking site aims to tap resistant market

Running two parallel services ‘not a conflict of interest’, says CEO of China operation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 November, 2015, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 2:19pm


LinkedIn China’s new professional networking app Red Rabbit will not challenge its parent company’s presence in the country as they target different user segments, a senior executive from the company said at a technology conference in Beijing this week.

Launched in June, Red Rabbit is an adaptation of LinkedIn that targets young white collars in China. Both will operate in the country under the business-oriented social network’s dual-brand strategy.

“LinkedIn naturally attracts people with an overseas background who work at multinational corporations, because these people need to be connected with the world,” Derek Shen, CEO of LinkedIn China at TechCrunch Beijing, said Monday.

READ MORE: Hong Kong banker's 'LinkedIn for helpers' platform going global

But young people in modern-day China are usually more concerned about their development and career closer to home, and LinkedIn cannot really service their needs, he added.

The launch of Red Rabbit comes as LinkedIn China has struggled to gain traction with white collars in the country. This has proven a bane for foreign headhunters and human resources officers at multinationals as they seek to fill managerial, C-suite and highly technical positions for their China operations.

Moreover, LinkedIn's local peers like Dajie, Wealink and Tianji - which had over 60 million members between them as of last year - have stood as further obstacles to its success in China, where it has at least partly fallen by the wayside along with other Western internet giants like Yahoo and Amazon.

READ MORE: Top car-hailing app Didi Kuaidi teams up with LinkedIn to improve user experience, give both brands a boost in China

Shen said the company was not just following a number of multinationals by localising its product to better serve the domestic market - rather, it was creating an entirely new one.

“Many multinational companies try to import a global product to the Chinese market without adapting it,” he said.

“But now, even localisation of a product is not sufficient. This is why we have created a completely separate product [for tChina].”

Red Rabbit was developed by LinkedIn China, which Shen said has “100 per cent” control over how the app should be run.

Although both sites will operate laterally in China, there won’t be a conflict of interest, according to the CEO.

“You can view LinkedIn and Red Rabbit’s relationship as similar to that of WeChat and QQ,” he said, referring to two of the dominant mobile messaging tools in mainland China. They are both operated by social and gaming giant Tencent.

“Not only did WeChat do well, QQ was also not negatively affected [by WeChat’s subsequent appearance and success].”

LinkedIn is one of the few truly global social networking companies that are permitted by China’s censors. Twitter and Facebook have been blocked in China for years, whereas LinkedIn seems to enjoy free rein.

This is partly because of LinkedIn China’s willingness to comply with the Chinese government’s censorship rules for its Chinese-language site.

In September last year, LinkedIn’s censorship policies came to light when a journalist in Shanghai disclosed an email from the company informing him that one of his articles would be censored on the platform, according to foreign media.

LinkedIn also censors all content that is prohibited in China from being seen globally if it is initially posed in China, the email revealed.

The company has since defended its compliance with China’s censors, saying that its policies were implemented to protect users in China from any potential backlash by Beijing, as the central government may be checking content outside the country.

Following the incident, LinkedIn changed its content-filtering policy in September 2014. According to the company, content authored in China that is filtered there will remain visible to members outside the country.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner was quoted as saying in February last year that while the company supports freedom of speech, “in order to obtain a license [in China], there will be requests to filter content and that’s going to be necessary … to achieve the kind of scale that we’d like”.

READ MORE: Censorship the least of LinkedIn's China hurdles

However, Shen maintains that LinkedIn’s relatively privileged status in China is due to the paucity of regulatory policies that directly affect it, as it is a professional network that does not contain much “sensitive content”.

When LinkedIn first entered China 18 months ago it only had four million users. It now has over 13 million, he said.

He attributes this growth to the way the company is run in China - much like a start-up.

“Big companies have processes and plans, but start-ups are focused on flexibility, speed and being decisive,” said Shen, .

“The challenge of LinkedIn in China is how to run this big company the way a start-up operates.”