Who is the culprit for LinkedIn’s defeat in China?

Irving Karonen
8 min readMay 13, 2023

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On May 9, LinkedIn released an announcement, announcing that China’s localized job search platform “Linking Job Market” will officially stop its services from August 9, 2023. At that time, all the products and services of LinkedIn Job Market will be discontinued, including the mobile APP, desktop website and WeChat mini-program.

In response to the decision to discontinue the service, despite the initial progress made in the past year, LinkedIn Workplace has always faced challenges brought by the increasingly fierce market competition and macroeconomic environment.

In addition, the size of the LinkedIn China team will also be reduced. On social media, some employees revealed that LinkedIn China has laid off its product and R&D team of about 200 people in China, leaving only a 100-strong overseas sales team.

So, as the world’s largest professional social networking site, why can’t LinkedIn compete in China?

In nine years of operating in China, LinkedIn has changed hands twice
To many foreign employees and Chinese students in the West, LinkedIn is not an unfamiliar name.

In December 2002, Reid Hoffman, a famous American investor and former executive vice president of PayPal, founded LinkedIn, which was headquartered in Mountain View, California, and officially launched in May 2003.

When it was first launched, LinkedIn was positioned as a business customer-oriented social networking service dedicated to connecting people in the global workplace and maintaining the contacts they know and trust in their business dealings. LinkedIn is popular with business people and elite workplace professionals.

In 2014, LinkedIn officially entered the China market in the form of a joint venture with Sequoia Capital (China) and Broadband Capital, and appointed Bo Yang Shen, former CEO of Nuomi.com, as President of China and Global Vice President, reporting directly to Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn.

With a simple interface, clear features, and fewer ads, LinkedIn attracted a large number of users in the Chinese market, with more than 4 million users in that year. Within two years of Bo Yang Shen’s leadership, the number of users in China was more than 10 million.

But the good times did not last long, after the second president Lu Jian took office, LinkedIn China cut off the platform’s original content publishing and interactive features, from a workplace social platform, and completely turned into a simple recruitment software.

On December 14, 2021, LinkedIn officially launched its new app “LinkedIn Workplace” in mainland China, which focuses on providing social links as well as career guides, essential courses and salary insights for mid-to-high-end professionals. At the same time, it started to provide talent and marketing services for Chinese companies going abroad.

The explanation for the removal of the “social media” function is based on competitive advantage and input-output ratio. Lu Jian said, on the one hand, the domestic media business accounts for a relatively small portion of LinkedIn’s business in China, compared to LinkedIn’s global business; on the other hand, it costs a lot of money to operate in compliance.

Many people believe that this reform of LinkedIn has “neutered” the features that can attract and retain users the most. With the loss of social features, LinkedIn has gradually become the “majority” in the market.

Now, LinkedIn, which already shut down its social networking capabilities in China two years ago, is further shutting down its remaining China operations and is about to begin layoffs in the country.

In an internal letter released today, LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky revealed that Mohak Shroff, the company’s senior vice president, and Lu Jian, president of LinkedIn China, will hold an all-staff meeting in China to communicate with their Chinese colleagues about the impact of these changes, including discontinuing product and engineering teams in China and downsizing positions in functional, business and marketing departments.

According to Reuters, LinkedIn previously said it would lay off 716 employees as part of broader changes that will also lead to the phasing out of its local job search app in China.

But LinkedIn has been slightly more generous to the laid-off employees. On social media sites, some users revealed that LinkedIn’s compensation package is 2N+3, but some sources also said that “the compensation package is 2N+2”.

Whose fault is it that LinkedIn lost China?

As the old saying goes, The higher you climb, the harder you fall. The decline of LinkedIn is largely due to its own poor localization.

One thing that is undeniable is that LinkedIn attaches great importance to the Chinese market. As early as when Shen Boyang took over LinkedIn, he was conscious that “LinkedIn China should not be a high-minded American Internet company, but a grounded local team, in terms of products, can not do mechanical copy and paste, but more localized things.”

But after 9 years in China, LinkedIn is still a bit in the air and ungrounded.

First, it’s a bit awkward to position LinkedIn as a business social network in the Chinese market. China is a more private and human society, and the “non-anonymous” nature of LinkedIn doesn’t work in the Chinese market. Most people are very guarded and don’t like to reveal information about their profession and education on public platforms, and they don’t chat too much on public platforms. This makes it difficult for LinkedIn to reflect its positioning advantages and differentiation in the Chinese market.

Secondly, LinkedIn mostly focuses on middle and high-end positions, the user group is too limited and the industry coverage is relatively narrow. In the Chinese market, LinkedIn Job Market attracts mostly elites, large enterprises and users from Fortune 500 companies, but this part of the population only accounts for a minority after all, and LinkedIn can’t take into account the growing demand for workplace socialization in Chinese society.

The elite workplace users liked it, but it could not attract the mass users. This became the platform image of LinkedIn for a long time.

Secondly, it is difficult to build sustainable user stickiness because it does not meet the usage habits of Chinese users. For example, the LinkedIn product is designed around PC and email, and the migration to mobile Internet is not fast enough, which is not the same as Chinese people’s habits.

In addition, not all jobs on LinkedIn communicate with HR like BOSS, and most of them can only cast resumes, and the feedback is not fast enough to meet the needs of efficient users in the Chinese market.

Many users have also reported that LinkedIn has a cumbersome product registration process, poor interactive experience, slow product updates, and poor page design. Even under the microblog of LinkedIn’s service adjustment, some users still commented that LinkedIn is “very difficult to use”.

The product design and not very “local” experience make it difficult for LinkedIn to gain wide user recognition and acceptance in the Chinese market, which is also the most important reason for the closing of LinkedIn Workplace.

At the same time, the tension between China and the United States and the wave of global layoffs have also affected LinkedIn to a certain extent.

Since the second half of 2022, global tech giants such as Microsoft, Google, Meta, and Amazon have made major layoffs to streamline company operations by cutting teams. As a workplace social platform owned by Microsoft, it’s no surprise that LinkedIn is following in the footsteps of its parent company.

With fierce competition among workplace social platforms, does LinkedIn have a future?

As an outsider and pioneer of workplace social networking in China’s Internet market, LinkedIn has been subject to fierce competition from Chinese workplace social networking platforms such as Zhi Lian Recruitment and BOSS Direct Recruitment, in addition to its own poor localization process.

According to the “2022 Internet Recruitment and Job Search Industry Insight Report” released by Mob Research Institute, in terms of monthly active users, Zhilian Recruitment and Qiancheng Wuyou have become the first tier of “10 million” users club, while the second tier is the “million” users including BOSS Direct Recruitment and Recruitment Hunt, and the 100,000-level LinkedIn China is reduced to the third tier.

The data from Econet Qianfan shows that in March 2023, the monthly activity of LinkedIn APP was 959,600, far less than the 18,459,800 of Qiancheng Wuyou, 17,284,500 of BOSS Direct Recruitment and 10,822,900 of Zhilian Recruitment Recruitment.

Why are these latecomers' local workplace social apps able to take the lead?

One, the industry coverage is wide, to meet the Chinese market workplace social “anonymous” demand. For example, in Qiancheng Wuyou, in addition to some office and technical jobs, waiters and couriers are also included in the list, which meets the needs of many enterprises in terms of employment. And on BOSS, users can also shield the former company, to meet the user’s “anonymous” will, to reduce unnecessary trouble.

Second, new features and services are constantly introduced to meet the diversified needs of users. For example, Pulse has undergone a community-based transformation, transforming the low-frequency demand of “job hunting” into the high-frequency demand of “content connection leading to relationship connection”. Users can not only establish circles but also grasp industry dynamics, and share workplace experiences and hot topics, which greatly enhances user stickiness.

Thirdly, high efficiency and rapid feedback adapt to the rapidly developing social needs of the Internet workplace in China. Take BOSS for example, set up the “read” function, users can know whether their resume has been seen by HR or not, and direct communication with the boss, can also quickly help job seekers distinguish whether the company is their preferred company.

On the other hand, it is also a particularly efficient way for companies to recruit.

All in all, under the competition of domestic social recruitment software such as Zhi Lian Recruitment and BOSS Direct Recruitment, LinkedIn did not know and understand the Chinese market well enough, which eventually led to its own discontinuation of service.

However, the cessation of service of the “LinkedIn Job Market” does not mean that LinkedIn will withdraw from the Chinese market.

It will continue to support the globalization of Chinese companies through its Talent and Marketing solutions, as well as its Learning solutions, which are coming to mainland China later this year. During the transition period, LinkedIn will also provide support for users, including information on how to download their LinkedIn Workplace personal account data and other helpful information.

This means that LinkedIn’s next business should be more To B (enterprise services) oriented, and LinkedIn also has an advantage in the “going abroad” area. Public information shows that as of 2022, the number of global users of LinkedIn is up to 830 million.

But for the C-sides (users) in China, the era of LinkedIn is over.

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Irving Karonen

Web3 enthusiast, Entrepreneur, Scientist, and Financial Engineer. Sharing Frontlines of Innovation and Investments. Biz: irving.karonen@gmail.com