Is Maimai the Future Platform for Workplace Social Networking?

Alex Lew, CFA
Oriental Review
Published in
7 min readNov 2, 2021


China’s workplace networking site is dominated by Maimai. However, the future of anonymous social networking remains uncertain.

According to a survey conducted by iResearch, 93% of white-collar workers have a positive attitude towards professional networking. In 2014, LinkedIn officially entered the China market. Due to the inability to truly understand the social needs of the Chinese workplace, it has only gained 50 million users in the past eight years. This year, it has suspended the registration of new users in China several times. Its localised version of Chitu also withdrew silently four years after it went online. Now, only Maimai dominates the Chinese professional networking space.

According to Maimai’s official website, Maimai has approximately 110 million registered users and 8 million monthly active users. The “2021 China White-collar Consumption and Workplace Social Research Report” released by iResearch shows that Maimai has an overwhelming advantage in the Chinese workplace social networking industry.

Source: BW Disrupt

The Success of Maimai

1) LinkedIn’s inability to understand the Chinese workplace

In European and American countries, professional networking and social networking are relatively separated. LinkedIn was also able to seize the opportunity in time to monopolize the field of online professional networking workplace before Facebook. On the other hand, China’s two major social platforms, WeChat and Weibo, are well-catered to the Chinese. There is almost no need for people to establish business relationships elsewhere.

LinkedIn always believes that users should have a certain clear purpose when using its software, such as learning workplace knowledge, seeking jobs, or establishing contacts. However, in most cases, the Chinese do not have a well-defined intention or purpose for using the app. They simply share things at work or check out the happenings of that other people at work. The inability to understand the Chinese market will lead to limited success, as exemplified by the failure of local app Chitu.

2) Maimai’s anonymous social networking is the key to its success

Due to resentment or unhappiness at work, many Chinese need a secret place to vent. Maimai’s app function to allow anonymous speech perfectly matches this demand.

In summing up the reasons for the failure, Chitu’s Shen Boyang said that Chinese users have only three important needs for workplace socialization: anonymous social networking, job hunting, and networking. Other needs, such as career development, vocational education, workplace activity aggregation and discovery are deemed less important.

When it comes to job hunting, there are many alternatives. For instance, large-scale recruitment platforms include 51job, Zhaolian recruitment, BOSS direct recruitment and Workplace social apps largely depend on social traffic for networking purposes. Since these apps fail to attract a large number of users, they have no competitive advantage. However, anonymous social networking sites is a huge source of traffic for Maimai, contributing to Maimai’s success.

From the product structure, Maimai’s business is divided into three major parts: social networking, content creation, and commercialization. Each function serves its own objectives.

Firstly, the social networking component is mainly used to expand contacts. Secondly, the commercialization component has two profit models, membership and classroom learning. And lastly, content creation is mainly to increase user viscosity. It is further divided into different types of content, such as verified interactions, column articles, Q&A, as well as professional speeches.


Maimai is known for its anonymous social function. A few well known examples includes anonymous posts regarding Meituan’s acquisition of Mobike, OFO corruption, star Li Xiaolu’s derailment, and the death of Pinduoduo’s employees who worked excessively overtime. For professionals in the workplace, Maimai’s anonymous function can satisfy their desire to voice things out without fear or hesitation. However, for Maimai’s business to expand, it has to gain a larger user base.

Anonymity Brings Both Success and Trouble

1) Anonymity leading to lawsuits

Since 2015, Maimai has been sued by many companies including Weibo, Baidu and ByteDance. The lawsuits involve disputes over defamation, online infringement liability and unfair competition. In 2018, the Beijing Cyberspace Administration and the Public Security Bureau ordered Maimai to make rectifications. For this reason, Maimai renamed the “Anonymous” section to “Workplace Opinions”, but the company still retained all the functions of anonymous posting. Today, the content in this section can be roughly divided into four categories regarding salary, complaints about the company’s system, interview experience, and company gossip.

Source: Maimai APP

In 2021, Maimai was once again sued, this time round by BiliBili. The reason was that in 2019, a user who appeared as a “Bilibili employee” posted a comment in Maimai’s “career section” stating his sexual encounters in the company.

From Tianyan, we can see that Maimai’s main company “Beijing Taoyou Tianxia Technology Development Co., Ltd.” has 62 judicial risks, including 34 lawsuits.

Maimai is not only resented by Internet giants. Many individuals also dislike Maimai for their data collection and privacy violations.

2) Failure to protect user information

Lin Fan, the founder and CEO of Maimai, has always claimed that protecting user information is the top priority of Maimai, and that Maimai will never reveal user information. For this reason, he also rejected countless investors and CEO requests to delete posts or check information, resulting in the acceptance of countless lawsuits.

However, Maimai was unable to keep up with its words. The company lost most of the lawsuits and was sentenced to provide real information about the users involved. This has weakened the trust between Maimai and its users. Many expressed disappointments at their breach of promise.

3) Inconsistent profitability

The dominance of Maimai as a workplace social networking platform has been unparalleled. From 2013 to 2018, it had received US$300 million in financing. The company even planned to go public in the United States. However, its business model profitability remains unclear. Although Lin Fan stated that Maimai had achieved profitability in 2016, there is a lack of consistent performance. With the company constantly surrounded by negative news, there were hardly any investors keen in investing.

Source: Enterprise Check

Currently, Maimai’s main revenue streams include advertising (40%), membership fees (40%), and recruitment fees (20%). On the other hand, LinkedIn showed that its problem-solving solutions accounted for nearly 40% of total revenue, its recruitment and advertising service accounted for 35% each, while its membership subscription fees accounted for only 10%.

With the poor reputation of Maimai and the fierce competition in the recruitment industry, most companies will not use Maimai as their main recruitment channel.

With only 110 million registered users and more than 8 million monthly active users, the effectiveness of Maimai’s advertising is nowhere near WeChat, Douyin or even Tantan. Moreover, the real-name registered users on Maimai are not very active, and once they get acquainted, people usually shift their conversation to WeChat. Apart from the limited user base, Maimai also faces many complaints by users, as there is no reminder regarding automatic membership renewals.

Source: Sina Black Cat Complaint Platform

The Future of Maimai

Maimai has tried many new features on its platform. For example, in January 2018, Maimai launched the “Maimai Classes” and livestream sessions hosted by professionals. However, the success of these initiatives remain limited as there are already mature competitors in the market.

Source: Maimai APP

Maimai’s sticky situation is also reflected by its management. Since the second half of 2019, there have been many managerial changes. Ling Jun, the vice president of human resources, and Li Zhener, the head of government cooperation, left in the second half of 2019. In addition, co-founder Zhang Wei, co-founder and chief marketing officer Hu Chen, chief technology officer Yao Jinyi, co-founder former CTO Jiang Youxin, and senior director of content advertising Cui Yao alongside five other executives have resigned in the first half of 2020.

“Anonymity” was deemed as Maimai’s key to success, yet it evokes the a difficult situation. Perhaps just as Shen Boyang said, anonymity brings upon both success and trouble. If Maimai is unable to rebrand its company, it may not have a good commercial prospect. However, it is too difficult for Maimai to abandon everything and start afresh. Perhaps the company can find a sweet spot between retaining users’ stickiness while allowing the platform to operate sustainably.



Alex Lew, CFA
Oriental Review

Asean and China watcher