Big international news today for LinkedIn, the social media site for professionals to network with each other: the company is launching its first official site in China — in Simplified Chinese, in beta. Derek Shen, president of China for LinkedIn, notes in a blog post that the site will be branded “领英” and will aim to offer more localized content for Chinese-speaking users.
LinkedIn is not starting from zero: the company already has some four million registered users in the country from some 80,000 different companies, although they all currently only use an English language site that has been accessible in the country for over 10 years already. The state of affairs, Shen notes, is one of LinkedIn still in a “start-up phase” in the country.
And this new venture will not be forged alone: Shen says that LinkedIn has established a joint venture with Sequoia China and CBC “to explore expanding our business here.” This potentially means not just how the the site itself will grow, but could include the launch of new services and potential investments into local companies that can help LinkedIn develop more localised services.
Some of those local tweaks are already a part of the site: social platforms Sina and Tencent are already integrated — meaning users can link up their accounts on these to cross post with LinkedIn; users can import contacts from Weibo. Users of WeChat can also link their accounts to share content.
For a company of 277 milion users that has been criticised of late for slowing growth, the move is significant: China represents an opportunity of some 140 million professionals, or one in five of all knowledge workers globally, according to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. And given how strong the GDP is growing in China — currently the world’s second-fastest — the number of potential users is sure to go up.
“Given the rapid acceleration and development of China’s economy, the expansion of our offering in China marks a significant step forward in our mission to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful,” Weiner writes in a blog post.
While a move into China will help the company tap into a rapidly expanding base of new users, it will not be without its challenges. Weiner notes that the decision to move into China is one that the company has been weighing up for a while, balancing the opportunity against the fact that companies that operate in the country are subject to censorship and much more government control than they are in the U.S. For a company that effectively relies on user-generated content, conversations, and a general level of trust and engagement, this is a huge deal.
Weiner says that its workaround is to put into place a list of requirements for how it intends to proceed:
— Government restrictions on content will be implemented only when and to the extent required.
— LinkedIn will be transparent about how it conducts business in China and will use multiple avenues to notify members about our practices.
— The company will undertake extensive measures to protect the rights and data of our members.
“Within this framework, I believe that the benefits of LinkedIn’s evolution in China will prove compelling to our members, who are based in China, as well as members around the world,” Weiner writes. He says that LinkedIn will continue to talk to partners, policy makers and others to reassess how it is proceeding in the country. Those parties include Sequoia China and CBC, and our President of China, and LinkedIn’s head of China Derek Shen.