LinkedIn is creating a site dedicated to China, its 22nd local language site, according the New York Times:
“There are 140 million professionals in China — one out of five professionals on a global basis,” [chief executive Jeff] Weiner said. “With an ‘English only’ site we had four million users,” the great majority of whom were expatriates in China.
[…] The objective of the Chinese site, Mr. Weiner said, is to build a talent marketplace that would be attractive both to multinational companies looking to expand their presence in China, and to Chinese companies looking for a stronger foreign presence.
As the site grows, however, it is likely to require a license from the Chinese government, which may limit what LinkedIn publishes there. “While we support free speech, we recognize that to obtain a license in China it may be necessary to limit some things,” he said. [Source]
The announcement allows LinkedIn to further entrench itself in a country where Facebook and Twitter are blocked for refusing to abide by government censorship rules. Bloomberg notes that LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner vowed to protect member data on the site, and offered a tenuous commitment to the freedom of expression:
“LinkedIn strongly supports freedom of expression and fundamentally disagrees with government censorship,” Weiner said in a LinkedIn post. “At the same time, we also believe that LinkedIn’s absence in China would deny Chinese professionals a means to connect with others on our global platform, thereby limiting the ability of individual Chinese citizens to pursue and realize the economic opportunities, dreams and rights most important to them.” [Source]
Weiner added in an interview that LinkedIn had been preparing the site’s launch for nearly two years, and that censorship may be necessary in allowing China’s 140 million professionals to use the social network—which has potential to boost the service’s user base by 50 percent. From The Wall Street Journal:
“We’re expecting there will be requests to filter content,” he said. “We are strongly in support of freedom of expression and we are opposed to censorship,” he said, but “that’s going to be necessary for us to achieve the kind of scale that we’d like to be able to deliver to our membership.”
Weiner said that in many ways, LinkedIn’s goal in China is “aligned” with the Chinese government’s efforts to “create economic opportunity for a thriving middle class.” [Source]
For Forbes, George Anders discusses LinkedIn’s approach and the competitive landscape it faces as it enters the Chinese market:
During a recent visit to Beijing, Weiner said, he met with students, entrepreneurs and corporate employees to learn how they viewed the world of work. He was heartened to hear that students wanted good jobs; entrepreneurs wanted to build their networks, and experienced employees wanted to move up in the world. “It’s what we see all over the world,” Weiner said.
To ramp up its China presence, LinkedIn last month had hired a prominent local executive, Derek Shen,to run its China operations. Shen has worked previously in China for Google, Nuomi and Renren Inc. In a blog post, Shen explained that LinkedIn’s China-based members now can click on a link to switch language preferences to Simplified Chinese. Shen noted that LinkedIn already has integrated popular Chinese services such as Sina and Tencent into its China service, making it easier for members to import their contacts.
LinkedIn may have some catching up to do in China. A recent AdAge article noted that Tianji, a Chinese networking site owned by France’s Viadeo, claims 15 million users. Some of Tianji’s attention-grabbing features — such as a free online personality test — sound jauntier than anything LinkedIn has tried to date. Tianji also ranks members’ clout, a time-tested way of fueling both online bragging and anguished efforts by stragglers to get their careers into high gear. [Source]