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China's Weibo—Networking Opportunities for Executives?

“It's all about people. It's about networking and being nice to people and not burning any bridges. Your book is going to impress, but in the end it is people that are going to hire you.” - Mike Davidson, CEO of Newsvine

Weibo can now boast over 140 million users, and is one of the fastest growing Internet sites in China, if not globally. Many have described it as a hybrid of both Facebook and Twitter, and it is used by the Chinese population for synonymous reasons that the Western World uses other social networking sites. "Sina Weibo had 56.5% of China's micro-blogging market based on active users and 86.6% based on browsing time over competitors such as Tencent Weibo and Baidu's services" stated in iResearch's report March 30, 2011. Such staggering statistics leaves no doubt that Weibo can no longer be ignored as a powerful tool, both socially and professionally.

Social networking has a myriad of different purposes and tools. We use social networking to socialize, connect, reconnect, market products, market ourselves, air our views, comment on other’s views and track the lives of virtually anyone that we have ever met. Moreover, it is possible to enhance your career prospects through joining online networking sites, more obviously through a site such as LinkedIn, but also more subtly through sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Marketing yourself has never been as easy or accessible. Equally most professionals of the technology generation are also aware of the drawbacks of a technological age, where it has also never been as effortless to unearth private information about a potential employee. Social networking sites, when used effectively, can enhance your employability by presenting you in the manner with which you wish to appear. Moreover, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are accessible to the masses, breaking down international barriers and in a broader sense making job search across the globe more manageable.

Conversely, one could argue that Weibo has the opposite effect, with many describing it as inaccessible and exclusive. Weibo is operational in both simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese characters and the site also provides a version for Taiwan and Hong Kong. The networking site, however, discourages use for anyone outside of China—unlike a site like Facebook, Weibo can only be accessed in the Chinese language. It is possible to translate the pages, but as anyone who has seen a Google translation knows, the translations are often far from synonymous with the actual meanings of the posts. Equally, it is very difficult to create a profile on Weibo unless you are a Chinese national as the Chinese government requires official verification for both individuals and companies establishing profiles with the service ; most celebrities try and overcome this, realizing the commercial importance of Weibo, by hiring PR teams based in China to manage their online profile for them.

Weibo’s seemingly exclusionary nature poses a very important question, which is: What is the significance of Weibo in terms of networking professionally, and can Weibo be used by executives working in China to market themselves and their talents to executive recruiters? The suggestion is that, where as social networking sites in general are used by companies to market themselves and products, site users can advertise their ideas, or develop an online presence, users of Weibo, who are predominantly Chinese nationals, are detached from the rest of the world on the site, and their networking limited to a national level. One could argue a parallel between the exclusive nature of Weibo and its popularity, and the furtive nature of the executive job market in China. And in a job market where it is now more important than ever to be performing at an international level, the inaccessibility of networking integration with China exemplifies the problem on a wider level.

Online professional networking opportunities across borders as it relates to executives and executive search in this region appear relatively inaccessible and confusing. Facebook and Twitter are both banned in China, and while LinkedIn is currently accessible within China, usage is low.
So…perhaps the real question is, “How can we utilize Weibo to make China a more accessible country for online executive networking opportunities across borders?”


This article was written by Helen Langley of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

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