This week, LinkedIn announced that it would shut down its consumer app in China, while eliminating 716 jobs globally.
The app, InCareer, was launched in 2021 without the social feed. Earlier that year, LinkedIn shut down its main social network citing “greater compliance requirements”.
LinkedIn did try to localise – they adopted a very Chinese name “领英” (Ling Ying – which can be translated as ‘leading elite’). At one point LinkedIn launched a separate platform called “赤兔” (Chi Tu – literally means “red rabbit”, which was the name of a famous horse in history) which claimed to be “the social app that knows Chinese job market the best”.
While the current geopolitical landscape and the data regulatory environment in China certainly played a big part in LinkedIn’s fading into irrelevance in China, they are not the only factors.
Former China head’s post
Perhaps the following post by former LinkedIn China head Boyang Shen is telling. Shen was LinkedIn China’s President and Global Senior Vice President between 2014 and 2017, and he currently serves as Chairman of Danke Apartment. The post was published on LinkedIn in 2019.
We have translated Shen’s post below:
When I joined LinkedIn 6 years ago, I started pushing for improvements of its product. However, for a global product, any changes will impact a lot of things, making any improvements hard.
What is more scary is that the product managers in headquarters (in the US) did not realise that our product had fallen far behind new generation social tools such as WeChat. They felt good about themselves.
To give you an example – when you receive a new contact request, and you accept it, you will immediately not be able to find the new contact that you just added. The only way you can find the contact is to remember the name and search using that name.
A simple solution is to make the contact’s avatar clickable – a better solution is to add a list of “new contacts”, just like WeChat has. The list can include the ones you have already accepted and those you have yet to.
We raised this request many years ago. It is OK that product managers do not understand the social habits of the Chinese, but it is unbelievable that they are even too lazy to simply copy a feature that works in a competitor.
There are many such missing features, which make user experience bad, eventually hurting user activity. “My network” page is full of “people you may” know, but it is very hard to find “list of connections” which should really be the core.
For any social product, user experience should be the most important product consideration, not any other KPI. Yes numbers do tell a story, but it might tell the wrong story. Some numbers will make you feel that the product is improving, but they hurt the long term prospects.
Zuckerberg already said that he felt it was too late for Facebook to copy WeChat – what is LinkedIn waiting for? LinkedIn should focus on its social features, and try its best to catch up.
Once you have more active users, monetisation tactics such as recruitment solutions and advertising will for sure improve.
I have left LinkedIn for almost two years – yet I still do care about the product. Really hope that LinkedIn can wake up and make the changes.
Unfortunately, Shen’s appeal did not seem to have gone anywhere. Our friends in China told us that even before LinkedIn shut its social feature, they had already stopped using it. Even for LinkedIn users outside China, we feel the very slow pace of product improvement.
LinkedIn’s story in China was not atypical for foreign tech giants in the fiercely competitive Chinese tech market – other examples include Amazon’s “planned, controlled, and well-executed demise in China”.
Similarly, Chinese tech giants make similar mistakes when they venture out of their gigantic home market, as we have captured in dozens of case studies in our book Seeing the unseen: behind Chinese tech giants’ global venturing.
While Shen complained a lot about product issues in LinkedIn China, the root cause is still leadership, and to a lesser extent people and organisation. Product priorities are only downstream to these factors.
LinkedIn CEO Roslansky said the company would dismiss its product and engineering teams, and downsize the corporate, sales, and marketing departments. It will retain talent, marketing and learning businesses in China to focus on “assisting companies operating in China to hire, market, and train abroad”.
Sounds very rational, and controlled.