Among major social media sites, China blocks Twitter and Facebook (among others); heck, it even blocks Slideshare! But not LinkedIn. I might be jumping to conclusions too soon (I mean, things get blocked in China pretty rapidly) but it seems safe to assume that China knows LinkedIn has much to offer to the middle kingdom. Enough, apparently, to keep it from getting blocked.
Firstly, China has a hard time connecting with the rest of the world through the web. Besides email, LinkedIn is probably the only common major social networking platform that can be accessed by both people in China and the rest of the world. While email is great for one-time threaded communication, it is hardly a tool to keep track of the statuses and updates of your business colleagues. And for obvious reasons, there aren’t many foreigners on Chinese social networks like Weibo or Renren. The most successful Chinese SNS overseas is probably WeChat with 70 million users outside of China. But I bet many of them are Chinese residing overseas.
Secondly, since LinkedIn has no localized site in simplified Chinese, most Chinese on LinkedIn know at least basic English. So naturally, it’s a useful tool for companies to look for talents who are well-versed in both languages and have a more global mindset. If China blocked LinkedIn, even the state-owned corporations wouldn’t be able to easily find those talents. LinkedIn acts as a filter that can help employers find folks who are proficient both languages.
Thirdly, avid users of the platform know that LinkedIn is a great resource for overseas business deals. So the three million Chinese on LinkedIn probably find it useful digging for potential connections and deal flows that they simply can’t find on domestic sites like Tianji or Ushi. While China web is pretty closed-off in general, having LinkedIn allows three million Chinese users to connect with the world, which might not be a bad thing.
With over 3,000 years of inventions and culture, we can’t expect China to change immediately into an open society. But gradually it should get there and LinkedIn seems like it could help (even it has only three million users). Plus, the government can also conveniently point to LinkedIn as an example of it being “open” when it’s criticized for blocking other social sites. And politically, there isn’t much need to block LinkedIn because it isn’t the most ideal platform to stage a huge revolt. LinkedIn users probably don’t have time for that. Seriously, they are on LinkedIn for business, not to be part of a movement.
If LinkedIn remains unblocked, and I believe it will, I reckon it should do very well in China. Local competitors are probably having a hard time fighting for the top talent (despite Tianji claiming that it has eight million users as of November last year) because their platforms aren’t connected to the world. To me, it is a winner-takes-all game and LinkedIn seems to have the edge with its global appeal, connecting China to the world of business and thus making it hard for China to block it.