Issues management is “an anticipatory, strategic management process that helps organizations detect and respond appropriately to emerging trends or changes in the socio-political environment” (Elizabeth, 2008, para. 5). As a classic public relations strategy, it is practiced by Chitu in fulfilling its endeavor to bridge the socio-economic/cultural gap between different demographics; this effort is also known as, “gap-bridging,” and Chitu’s advocating its values and goals through various activities. Issues management is “a proactive and systematic approach to predict problems, anticipate threats, minimize surprises, resolve issues, and prevent crises” (Wilcox & Cameron, 2006, p. 256). Generally, an organization conducts issues management by implementing a couple of measures and steps, which includes identifying the issue, analyzing the relevant environment, selecting appropriate strategies, taking action, and evaluating the results (Elizabeth, 2008). If well-prepared, the organization can, through using the proper issue management process, create practical and effective strategies that are conducive to the mutual benefit of all concerns (Cho & Kim, 2012).
The creation of Chitu itself is a result of LinkedIn China’s issues management strategy. By anticipating the potential risk of losing the Chinese market, if not creating new products that are tailored to the largest population of users, and mapping out a goal-driven response in advance, LinkedIn China has been able to make strategic responses rapidly.
Using environmental scanning, issue management helps Chitu identify potential issues and situations, which can possibly aggravate social and economic problems, such as inequality in acquiring social resources, opportunity disparities, and overseas talent shortages, all of which can inequitably affect different stakeholder groups. Furthermore, Chitu recognizes the increasing need for social networking, by young Chinese professionals, and it designs, as needed, strategies of building relationships tailored to them. With this significance, issue management is considered a “stewardship for building, maintaining and repairing relationships with stakeholders” (Heath, 1997. p. 210). As soon as the issues are recognized, Chitu categorizes different types of publics according to their level of issue awareness and involvement, then responds and resolves these problems by using two of the four issue management strategies that are explained by Hallahan (2001), the intervention-based strategy and the education-based strategy, which are as follows:
The intervention-based strategy focuses on monitoring, outreaching, or collaboration activities to address the concerns of aroused publics who have low-level issue awareness and high-level issue involvement. For responding to aware publics who are characterized by high-level issue awareness and low-level issue involvement, it is recommended to use the education-based strategy that includes efforts of alliance building with stakeholders, media advocacy, or lobbying. (Cho & Kim, 2012. p. 374-375)
The results of this research clearly reveal that Chitu uses the strategies discussed above to reduce the concerns of its stakeholders, which may include government, media, and user behavior. Chitu concentrates on outreach and collaboration efforts, such as helping the government, boosting employment, bringing in international talent, building alliances strategically with media groups to advocate its mission, and inviting career development experts to offer valuable online sharing to decrease the knowledge and opportunity inequality among users from different parts of China. Furthermore, Chitu has an admirable understanding of the pressures exerted on current professionals in China, and thus remains consistent in its intent to establish an interesting and lively social platform for professionals.
Embracing the Cultural Shifts in Guanxi
Additionally, the strategies and tactics of issues management have to be considered together within a more traditional and time honored context; i.e., that being an aspect of culture that is deeply rooted within the Chinese psyche. This cultural phenomenon is known as “Guanxi,” which has been introduced earlier. By applying the issues management strategy, Chitu has been notably successful in responding to cultural sensitivities.
The fourth research question in this study explored Guanxi’s influence on Chitu’s relationship cultivation strategies. Guanxi is a sophisticated and multi-dimensional social phenomenon in Chinese culture. Guanxi is alien to Western thought; therefore, it is difficult to explain in Western terms. Nevertheless, to shed some light on the practice, the following section analyzes previously described data and new cultural findings. Most results in this study regard Guanxi as the special phenomenon that concerns personal relationships not only in the traditional Chinese Confucianism societies, but also in the ever-changing and reforming modern China.
It should be recalled that, scholars define Guanxi as “a trust relationship among firm stakeholders that yields socioeconomic benefits (positive work morale, group harmony, and enhanced effectiveness), and is substantively distinct from bribery” (Su, Mitchell, & Sirgy, 2007, p. 6).
Instead of just passively reacting to, or promoting traditional Guanxi principles, such as “seeking assistance from family, good friends, and acquaintances,” Chitu, with a commendable knack for stranger networking, has presented to the public a new Guanxi model, and has concentrated its communication efforts on creating “positive energy,” which encourages high motivation, mutual help, open sharing, equality, and diversity based on group harmony, among its employees and users. Furthermore, from its beginning, Chitu has created a brand, which is its dedication to creating a warm and harmonious professional networking platform for young Chinese people (Interviewee 3, personal communication, March 25, 2016; interviewee 6, personal communication, March 26, 2016).
To successfully enter the Chinese market amounts to entering an extensive Guanxi network. Among all the stakeholders, the relationship management that LinkedIn China and Chitu conduct, the smartest strategies would be cooperating actively with the Chinese government by taking the lessons from failed foreign companies in China and satisfying local users’ needs. According to Su, Mitchell, and Sirgy (2007), who developed a hierarchical stakeholder model of Guanxi and claimed that not all are equally important among the necessary Guanxi relationships, Chitu has focused on the most important stakeholder group—the Chinese users who can represent revenue, and who will eventually determine its survival and financial success in the distinctive Chinese Internet environment.
In the traditional Guanxi model, which favors social networking among acquaintances and high-context communication, people trust who they know from their family and close social communities. Since modern China has a transitional and emerging economy with fast-changing rules and regulations, as well as, being amid the internet revolution, more and more social interactions and relationship-building needs are generated outside of kinships, spreading to a diversified societal environment, such as professional organizations. Frequent networking among strangers has become the inevitable result of social progress. However, in Chinese society, face-to-face Guanxi is still of great importance in maintaining relationships among people who have embraced this shift in culture. These understandings and insights have helped Chitu be on the ground to collect market intelligence and execute public relations strategies.
In terms of why trust is highly needed in a society shifting to obtain and encourage more social interactions among strangers, Jianguo (2013) has explained in his book that an “Acquaintances Society” is predicated upon a self-sufficient peasant economy. Other characteristics are its “closeness” to outsiders, and low citizen mobility. Its Guanxi structure is deferential, suggesting hierarchical relationships. Mutual trust among acquaintances is essential. In contrast, a “Strangers Society” is based upon a market economy, is more “open” to outsiders, than the Acquaintances Society, and has greater citizen mobility. Its structure is a group pattern in which contractual Guanxi dominates; these aforementioned features are safeguarded by the rule of law and regulation.
So, if Guanxi-based trust has consistently been required in the kinship and acquaintance circles for such a long time in China’s tradition, how could Chitu deal with the potential issue of distrust as it pursued its goals to create networking success among total strangers? At this point, Chitu again resorted to issue management strategies to identify which issues were most likely to arise as it attempted to induce strangers to interact on social and business levels. The chief strategies that Chitu has employed, and, which were mentioned earlier, were the addition of “Professional Identity Certification” and “Sesame Credit Rating Certification.” Further, it must be noted that users are required not only to use their legal names, but a recent photo is required, and brief biography that includes employment and educational experience. These requirements that Chitu has implemented serve to enhance the traditional notions of trust, upon which ancient ideas of Guanxi were founded. The result is that Chitu has gained inroads into new online markets, and has helped narrow the socio-economic and cultural gap, by instituting a modern form of Guanxi. In turn this new Guaxi has facilitated the Chinese government’s efforts to improve the credit system and promote social progress.
The content above is derived from Chapter 5 of my master's thesis - A Case Study of LinkedIn China and Its Sub-Brand Chitu - with a focus on Public relations and social media strategies. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Li Yingying and www.liyingying.us with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. And please feel free to leave your idea, comments or questions, I'd be happy to exchange with you.