In the last part of our interview with Derek Ling, CEO of Tianji, he said professional SNS grows slowly in China because the Linkedin model does not fit China’s environment.

In Linkedin, people frequently get requests like ‘I need this and this,” or “I need to hire such and such”. However, in China, it will be “uncool” to state those requests directly, said Derek.  “People in China have to be friend first before they can do business together.”

They have to be familiar with  each other on other matters first, for example, through discussion of social issues, their common interests, etc. Afterwards, discussion of business can follow suit.  They cannot do business with each other the first day they meet.  This is very different from the social norm in the U.S.

“That is why Tianji has a lot of discussion forums, groups and events, for the member to socialize with each other,” said Derek.  In short, comparing the US and the China model for professional SNS, the value proposition is the same – it is for people to search and contact business partners, but the way is different, said Derek.

The phenomenon, however, is changing.  In the next few years, Derek believe the growth of professional SNS in China will speed up. ” In the next 2-3 year, there will be explosive growth in professional SNS,” said Derek.

Social networks such as Renren and Kaxin start to change people’s behaviour, making them willing to put their real information and real friends online – a very important step for building a professional SNS.

“Currently, most social networks are for entertainment.  Soon, people will ask what else they can do with SNS.  And professional SNS, such as Tianji, which help them to do business, will be the answer,” said Derek.

He expected Tianji’s members to reach 10 million by the end of this year, up from 6 million at the moment.  About 15% of its members visit it twice a month. Once, Tianji has over 20 million members, it will reach the critical mass.  (Linkedin reached its critical mass when it has 30-40 million member, but Linkedin is multiple country.)

As of competitors, Derek believe US-based Linkedin is the real competitor.  Linkedin is the only major global SNS that can be used in China.  Currently, there are about 1 million Linkedin users in China, according to industry expert.  That is more than some local professional SNS, for example, Beijing based Hengzhi has only 600,000 members and Shanghai-based Ushi has 200,000.

“Linkedin is the largest in English Speaking countries.  But, our group [Viadeo] believe in multi-local strategy.  Viadeo is the largest SNS for non-English speaking countries.  Our group’s strategy is Europe , plus emerging market,” said Derek.

Regarding to Linkedin, Derek said he is “watching them carefully”.  Also, although Linkedin can be used in China right now, Derek warned “it does not mean it always can”.

As of the local competitors, Shanghai based Wealink, which started about the same time as Tianji, is one of the largest.  An industry insider thinks it might has more users than Tianji.  But, Derek believes a lot of their users are fresh graduated or low-end users, which offers little value to other users.

In the last couple years, there are a few late comers, such as Ushi and Hengzhi, which focus on users of better quality.  One of the co-founder of Ushi was from Tianji (ref our interview with UShi founders).  His reason for doing so is that there are too much spamming on Tianji.

In response, Derek thought there are a lot of spam on Ushi, too.

Sherman So

Author of Red Wired: China's Internet Revolution, the first book to completely survey the nature of China's internet. ( She previously was the lead China technology reporter...

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