The move to create a separate app solely for China users comes as no surprise in light of Beijing’s recent crackdown on the tech industry. In many ways, LinkedIn’s new China strategy mimics the path taken by ByteDance, which created two separate apps, TikTok (for global users) and Douyin (for Chinese users). The introduction of multiple new rules for data security, privacy protection and compliance requirements in China has made it difficult for LinkedIn to continue to operate in the current market environment. For example, in March 2021, the platform temporarily paused new user registrations to ensure compliance with local legislation.

While LinkedIn has insisted that it is still committed to helping recruiters in the Chinese market through InJobs, foreign companies would be wise to start paying more attention to Chinese recruitment and networking platforms in order to continue to effectively communicate with Chinese professionals and connect cultures and people. “The Chinese adoption of western social media has always been fraught with complex challenges. The LinkedIn professional/social model has also been difficult to compete with globally and we’ve seen the likes of Facebook, Google and Alibaba attempt similar models with very mixed levels of success. With all of the professional networking features that LinkedIn offers there is likely to be a gap in the market in China,” James Buchan, managing director of digital agency Zudu, tells FOCUS.

Online recruitment platforms in China
LinkedIn is certainly not the only popular recruitment and networking platform in China. While many Chinese people, particularly those working for foreign companies with offices in China, found their jobs via LinkedIn and use the site to contact colleagues abroad, local platforms such as Maimai, Zhaopin, Liepin and 51Job have attracted strong user bases in recent years. For example, according to the research firm Analysys Qianfan, Maimai has more than 4.8 million monthly active users (MAU) – compare that to LinkedIn’s 903,900 MAU.

However, these sites are China-centric and there is concern that they may lack LinkedIn’s ease of connecting with colleagues and companies outside the country. Compared to LinkedIn, these platforms do not have global reach and are typically favoured by white-collar workers in the tech industry in China. Nevertheless, there is uncertainty as to how InJobs will continue to promote global business opportunities, so it is vital for the purpose of recruitment in China that Western companies use these alternative sites to post their job ads.

In addition, these Chinese platforms do still offer social networking and content features, which foreign companies may need to use to share their thoughts around businesses and industries. As Arnold Ma, CEO of digital content agency Qumin notes, “A lot of Western companies use LinkedIn as part of their corporate comms. Without it, it may be tough to compete with Chinese brands/companies for the best people, i.e., companies may find it hard to build credibility.”

Networking in China without LinkedIn
It is difficult to predict the long-term impact of LinkedIn’s retreat from China. Nevertheless, going forward it is important that foreign companies investigate alternative Chinese social media and recruitment platforms and open accounts on Chinese websites to maintain positive communication. “Cutting the LinkedIn shackle could also be a benefit,” says Ma. “It may force foreign companies in China to really invest in local talent searches, for example, through university recruitment days and internships as many do in the West. Further, it could encourage companies to be braver with their corporate comms and adapt ‘Chinese flavour’ content strategies”

After LinkedIn was blocked by Russian authorities back in 2016, Russian people turned to Facebook to discuss business matters. In China, many business people have already turned to the omnipresent WeChat to discuss business matters.

It is unlikely that LinkedIn’s decision will be detrimental to global networking with China in the long run. “Successful intercultural communication takes place when there is in-depth meaningful exchange and real conversation,” notes Catherine Xiang, programme director of the BSc International Relations and Chinese at LSE.  “People will continue to network at international conferences and global events and on work-related business trips. These will continue to offer opportunities for people to connect and interact. Perhaps the scale will be limited [compared to] LinkedIn, however, the quality will be better.”