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How does "Guanxi" culture influence LinkedIn China's relationship management strategies

August 31, 2016

As has been mentioned in my former blogs, many internet companies fail in China because of not establishing relationship cultivation strategies based on a clear understanding of the Chinese market, and essential cultural phenomena. Of those cultural dimensions, Guanxi is one of the most important, for it is predicated upon “network, connection, and personal relationships.” Any individual with a deep understanding of traditional Chinese culture understands that since ancient times, and when most Chinese lived in small towns, Guanxi, as shall be further explained in the following section, has related to inter-community networking, trusting interpersonal relationships, general reciprocity. In other words, one who is versed in Chinese tradition, will seldom hesitate to guess that at the heart of Chinese business, professional, and social matters, lay considerations about Guanxi. Furthermore, within the Chinese culture setting, Chitu’s fundamental objective is to connect people from various social strata, and further to inculcate solid and trusting interpersonal relationships. Based on these points, it may be assumed that Guanxi plays an indispensable role in encouraging Chitu, in its effort to be successful in China, to pursue a deep understanding of Chinese culture and its business environment, as well as, to pursue and maintain relationships with its key stakeholders.

 
"Guanxi" as a typical Chinese culture
 

Guanxi is a cultural phenomenon, based on Confucius teaching, and it is defined as personal relationships that are reciprocal, intangible, and transferable (Luo, 1997). Guanxi really means “connections” and is built on an informal structure that facilitates implicit exchanges of immediate or future favors. These informal structural ties are interwoven within the entire society via families, friends, and acquaintances in China.

 

Spend any time in China, you will quickly learn the power of "Guanxi." Guanxi drives business deals and government contracts. It is the invisible glue that binds people together. It is the sense of connection and mutual obligation that Chinese society prizes in personal relationships (“Why big American,” 2013).

 

Within the business-to-customer context in social media, Guanxi is used in the form of “seeking assistance from family” or “maintaining friendships by providing help to friends” (Taormina & Gao, 2010) as a means to formulate strategies for building B2C relationships. For a more intimate approach, firms that offer niche products with a smaller customer base can use the analogy of “seeking assistance from family.” For a mass market product, firms can use the analogy to persuade customers to use word-of-mouth by “maintaining friendships by providing help to friends.”

 

To What Extent Are LinkedIn China’s Relationship Cultivation Strategies Influenced by Guanxi
 

I created this section by applying a combination of three approaches: interviews, observation of and user experience on the Chitu app, as well as participation in Chitu’s featured activities. Regarding how Guanxi influences Chitu’s relationship cultivation strategy, there are several important discoveries that are worth noticing: 

 

Making Use of Reciprocity in Guanxi Culture. Sending presents is a traditional way of keeping Guanxi in China. From the beginning, Chitu’s marketing personnel have been teaming up with its public relations teams to communicate Chitu’s image and values (Interviewee 1, personal communication, February 24, 2016; interviewee 3, personal communication, March 25, 2016). One o