Editor’s note: This was contributed by Elliott Zaagman a trainer, coach, and change management consultant who specializes in aiding Chinese companies as they globalize. He is ezaagman on WeChat. Disclosure: In addition to writing about China’s tech scene, the author of this piece is a corporate trainer and executive coach. One of the many companies he has worked with is Zhihu, the subject of this piece.
Zhihu, the Chinese Q&A-based site often referred to as China’s version of Quora, is setting its sights on disrupting how companies recruit talent.
The Beijing-based knowledge-sharing platform already has evolved from its Q&A roots. Over the past two years, it has become a leader in China’s burgeoning paid knowledge-sharing industry. Its “Zhihu Live” service, launched in May of 2016, allows users to participate in paid Q&A sessions with experts in professional and academic fields. For its contributors, it has enabled a “Column Reward” feature, which allows readers to voluntarily “tip” their favorite experts a small amount of money to show their support. In September 2016, “Zhihu Read” was launched, a publishing initiative which allows Zhihu to be involved in the distribution, purchase, reading, and discussion of published works, creating online communities for books, their authors, and their readers.
Zhihu, in practice, even functions in social-network capacity, serving as a kind of “smart people Twitter” for China’s professional and intelligentsia classes. In July of this year, when responding to an online controversy, Wang Xing, CEO of food delivery giant Meituan, took to Zhihu, not Twitter-like Weibo, to release his official statement.
“My Wechat friends’ circle is too full of people selling things now,” explained an academic who works for China’s National Museum. “Most of my friends moved from Weibo to Wechat a few years ago, and now many of them spend most of their social media time on Zhihu.”
An “Opportunity Facilitator”
Growing from its Q&A roots, Zhihu now has begun looking like a hybrid of Quora, Patreon, Coursera, and Twitter. For its future development, it aims to add Linkedin to that list as well. While still in the early stages of development, the long-term vision of the organization is to revolutionize how organizations access talent.
“When an employer uses Linkedin or a traditional job board to recruit, they rarely receive more information about a candidate than their CV. That simply isn’t enough,” explains Zhihu founder and CEO Victor Zhou (周源). “With Zhihu, employers will be able to deeply investigate an expert’s knowledge and point of view, allowing them to get a clear picture of whether this person is actually the individual they’re looking for.”
When speaking with Zhou about the platform and its future, one word that he frequently brings up is “opportunity.” He sees a key strength of Zhihu being its role not simply as a facilitator of knowledge-sharing, but of small and medium-scale entrepreneurship as well. “When many people think of entrepreneurs, they think of Jack Ma, of Steve Jobs, but the important ones who are often overlooked are the millions of smaller entrepreneurs who are able to create moderately successful lives doing what they’re good at and what they’re passionate about,” explains Zhou.
“I remember one user, she loved making Japanese bread, she even visited Japan to learn how to make it. She wanted to find a way to turn it from her hobby to her career. She would discuss with others on Zhihu about techniques for making the bread, and began to gather a small following from others who were interested as well,” Zhou says. “When she decided to open a bread shop in Shanghai, she sought advice from Zhihu’s community of experts about how to open and run a small business. When the business opened, she had already had a small “fan club” of loyal supporters in her Zhihu community. I want people to think of Zhihu as a facilitator for these kinds of success stories”
Avoiding the “Linkedin sterilization”
As Zhihu expands into the world of professional networking, they may face a tricky challenge. They must maintain the essence of what draws people to the platform in the first place: its rigorous, authentic discussion that helped it develop its reputation for credibility. “I don’t know what kind of effect that will have,” explains one Zhihu user who works in the financial services industry. “I think a lot of people like to use Zhihu because they can be honest, and have a real discussion. If you look at sites like Linkedin, everyone is too afraid to argue with anyone, because it’s more professional, more formal. I don’t want Zhihu to become like that.”
Not everyone thinks this way, though. “These days, people need to build a personal brand, and if they have opinions, that helps them attract the right people,” explained a Beijing-based PR professional. “Companies want to connect with those personal brands, so platforms that can do that well have a lot of growth potential.”