LinkedIn goes where no social network has gone before… To China

LinkedIn ChinaThe likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter have famously struggled to gain a foothold in China, the world’s largest internet market, but there is one US social media network with a presence in that country. And now, it’s presence is set to get that much bigger with the launch of a beta version.

LinkedIn, the so-called professional network, has just launched a mainland China-focused, Chinese language version of its site that’s to be known as 领英 (Ling Yin). LinkedIn has enjoyed vastly more success than sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter, which have all been blocked by China’s government at various times, and its presence there has been steadily growing to the point where it already counts some four million users. Now, with the launch of its Chinese-language version, it’s hoping to expand that reach and attract a much greater portion of the 140 million-odd professionals in that country, reports RE/Code.

Derek Shen, LinkedIn’s president of China, said in a blog post that the Chinese LinkedIn would help the site to achieve its mission of connecting the world’s professionals:

“Our mission is to connect the world’s professionals and create greater economic opportunity—and this is a significant step towards achieving that goal.”

“We know many professionals in China and other parts of the world prefer to communicate in their native language, particularly in a business context, and so we are excited to introduce a beta version of LinkedIn in Simplified Chinese. This will make our services localized to more members in China, so they too can leverage LinkedIn to further enhance their economic circumstances. Simplified Chinese is now one of the 22 languages we are proud to support around the world.”

LinkedIn is fortunate in that, while native Chinese services like Baidu, Sina Weibo and WeChat have more or less cornered the local market, there’s no Chinese equivalent to itself that’s targeted directly at professional networking. With the site now available in Chinese, this could help to jump start its slow growth in users at a time when its reach in countries like the US and Europe seems to have peaked.

Of course, there is one big looming question – that of censorship. It’s not immediately clear how LinkedIn might be affected by this, but one condition of the deal is that all data on Chinese users must be stored on servers located within China itself. LinkedIn will also be required to censor certain bits of content when required, but will only do so when such content is prohibited under Chinese laws, and the content will only be filtered for members accessing the site within China.

Historically, quite a few US companies have had trouble in trying to reconcile their own values with China’s often overbearing censorship. Google, Facebook and several other companies have either stayed out or pulled out of the country due to China’s policies, while Yahoo has been heavily criticized in the past for bending over backwards to accommodate its requests. Luckily for LinkedIn, its users don’t usually use the site as a platform for discussing politics or taking part in protests, and so it should be able to avoid the worst of these issues.