LinkedIn is attempting to expand its presence in China with the launch of a Simplified Chinese site, in addition to its English version, which it says will offer localized services as well as adhere to local laws.
The professional social network unveiled the beta version of the Chinese site as well as announced a new joint venture with Sequoia China and CBC to "explore our business" in China, newly appointed LinkedIn China President Derek Shen shared in a blog post Monday.
The social network has enjoyed a unique status in the Chinese market where its English site has remained unblocked in the last decade, shoring up over 4 million members employed across 80,000 local and multinational corporations that include Lenovo and Tencent. It is now targeting to reach the country's over 140 million professionals and add them to the site's current global network of 277 million members in over 200 countries and territories.
According to Shen, China's professionals account for some 20 percent of the world's knowledge workers. "We know many professionals in China and other parts of the world prefer to communicate in their native language, particularly in a business context... This will make our services localized to more members in China, so they too can leverage LinkedIn to further enhance their economic circumstances," he said, adding that LinkedIn now supports 22 languages.
To cater to the local network, the Chinese site has integrated functions from other popular messaging and microblogging sites such as Sina and Tencent, where members can import their Weibo contacts. LinkedIn members who are WeChat users can also integrate both accounts so they can more easily share news and insights across both networks, Shen said.
Existing LinkedIn members in China can send invitations to their professional contacts individually or more extensively by importing their address books into the LinkedIn site, he explained. They can also toggle between either version of the site by switching the language settings, though some features such as "Groups" currently are not available in the Chinese site, he noted.
The executive added that the company will continue to add localized features and requirements to support its Chinese users.
Chinese site to obey Chinese laws
Shen further stressed that the local site will abide by local laws, suggesting that LinkedIn is likely to lean toward censoring content on its site if need be.
China is widely known to have strict censorship rules implemented by the government's rigid Web filtering system, also dubbed the Great Firewall, which today continues to block several popular social networks including Facebook and Twitter.
"Extending our service in China raises difficult questions, but it is clear to us the decision to proceed is the right one."
~ Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO
"As we do everywhere in the world, expanding our presence in markets also means a new level of engagement with the relevant government authorities and adherence to local laws," Shen said.
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner further explained the company's stance in his own blog post: "Expanding our presence in China presents a challenge that our company must address directly, clearly, and in a manner consistent with our core values. As a condition for operating in the country, the government of China imposes censorship requirements on Internet platforms.
"LinkedIn strongly supports freedom of expression and fundamentally disagrees with government censorship. 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," he said.
Weiner added that the company had established its local strategy after gathering input from various industry experts including policy makers, global human rights groups, and China analysts. LinkedIn sees its presence in the Chinese market as necessary to support its ambition of growing its professional network and "digitally map the global economy".
"Extending our service in China raises difficult questions, but it is clear to us the decision to proceed is the right one," the CEO said. "We believe individuals in the United States, China, and beyond will benefit substantially from Chinese professionals connecting with each other and LinkedIn members in other parts of the world."
Despite its ambitious goal, the U.S. company faces a slew of Chinese clones including Tianji, Dajie, and Ushi, though these competitors cater mostly to the local market and currently lack LinkedIn's ability to connect local members with others globally.