This case study research has examined the public relations practice of LinkedIn China and its sub-brand Chitu to determine whether the stakeholder and relationship theories from the Western perspective apply to organizations in China. This research went beyond examining previous studies on the applicability of stakeholder relationship management because it added more related theoretical explanations such as the Page Principles, Personal Influence and Issues Management, thereby, helping the reader understand more fully the reasons for Chitu's success in China when other western internet companies have failed. Moreover, through a deeper evaluation of the dimensions of Guanxi culture and relationship cultivation in China, this study sought to provide greater insight into how the combination of public relations practices and comprehensive understanding of cross-cultural issues can help foreign internet companies succeed in China. In this section, the researcher will discuss the theoretical and practical implications extrapolated from these findings, followed by an examination of limitations of this research. Finally, recommendations and future research are made.
This case study contributes to public relations research in a Chinese context. Though public relations practice is ‘‘well-established’’ in the West (Kirat, 2005), it has been relatively underdeveloped since it was first introduced to China starting with reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s (Chen & Culbertson, 1992). Initially, mainstream Western concepts and models, such as the four public relations system models (Grunig & Hunt, 1984) and excellence theory (Grunig & Grunig, 1992) were borrowed to develop Chinese public relations studies (Hou, Zhu, & Bromley, 2013). This research found that the assumptions and predictions of stakeholder theory and relationship theory can be as well applied in Chinese public relations practice, thus, providing further support for these theories. Specifically, identifying and prioritizing stakeholders and publics, according to organizational goals and situations, are of fundamental relevance for managing strategically organization stakeholder relationships. Moreover, developing positive relationships with stakeholders is imperative. For organizations, additional implications were found as follows: (1) delivering value in relationship cultivation, (2) the application of theories within the evolving cultural context.
1, Delivering value in relationship cultivation.
Delivering values in relationship cultivation essentially means meeting the needs and expectations of stakeholders, which involves behavior in communicating strategically and promoting an organization’s value to the target stakeholders. Ledingham (2003) concluded that the building of organization–public relationships requires not only communication, but public and organizational behaviors, which is central to the relationship management perspective. He explained that “Communication alone cannot sustain long-term relationships in the absence of supportive organizational behavior” (p.15). Evidence from this study suggests that LinkedIn China and Chitu persistently focus on various public relations behaviors that not only communicate values to, but actually deliver them to the stakeholders, especially their customers and users. The practice of emphasizing the delivery of value in relationship cultivation could contribute to the relationship theory, discussed earlier, in that value can make a relationship endure and achieve long-term goals. Similarly this research has introduced and emphasized the Page Model and CEO communication and Personal Influence in order to address and mitigate the deficiencies of relationship theory, thereby, making it more applicable to different contexts.
2, The application of theories within the evolving cultural context.