China: Never Mind the sex Romps, Let’s Network

Aug 02, 2013 at 11:24 AM ET

The founder of one Chinese mobile-based social app is sending a revolutionary message to its users: I don’t want your sex.

The app, Guanxi, brings together Chinese millennials looking to build business and long-term personal relationships. Using location technology, the mobile app connects its 200,000 active users based on their answers to a variety of social questions, including the kinds of relationships they’re looking to form, their likes and dislikes, their profession and their pre-existing social networks. Users create profiles and post photos—you know the drill.

And while the app does offer customers opportunities for casual sex, like any social network worth its salt, the founder says that’s not what the young people in China really want.

“There are some people that just want to use it for dating,” says app founder Alvin Wang Graylin. “But that’s actually very few. A lot of people also just want to make friends. Or strengthen their business networks.”

The premise of the app, which officially launched in 2012, is the traditional Chinese notion of guanxi: meaningful connections built on trust and understanding. Guanxi is often used to refer to strong, mutually beneficial relationships formed through business networks. And those are the kind of connections that Graylin and his team particularly want to help build.

“So many Chinese relationships are developed through online relationships,” Graylin explains. “It’s actually helpful for us to facilitate more opportunities face-to-face. That’s one of the purposes of the app—to really introduce you to people in your greater social circle who can help you in your life with whatever purpose.”

Graylin translated this message into the app’s most recent marketing campaign, an inspired music video that features a 20-something guy disappointed by the hookup culture around him. “Don’t hook up, no!” he sings. “Things that come up can only bring woes! A girl a night, not an easy fight! The health report can give you a fright!” The video features Guanxi-brand condoms, which the company distributes to promote safe sex with serious partners. “We sponsor a lot of concerts, activities and nightclubs,” Graylin says. “We choose a lot of places where [the condoms] are distributed to a fairly mature audience.”

But Guanxi isn’t the only new company looking to bank on the powers of guanxi. Two Chinese business-focused websites, Tianji and Ushi, also allow users to connect with people in order to expand their professional networks. Tianji and Ushi function a lot like LinkedIn, one of the only social-networking websites not blocked in China, and they’re meant strictly for business.

There are other popular social-networking apps trying to attract China’s 80 million new mobile users per year. WeChat and Momo, two popular mobile apps, are designed for quick chatting. Momo is China’s version of the United States’ Tinder, a location-based app made specifically for one-hit hookups nearby. Whereas Guanxi’s slogan is “Turning me into we,” Momo’s slogan is the more provocative “Hello, stranger.” But Wang says young female professionals are aborting Momo, and for good cause: “Most of the active females seem to be prostitutes [on the app], and they don’t want to be thought of that way.”

While Graylin acknowledges that there is a market for casual sex in China, he has seen a lot of success getting Chinese millennials to turn it down in favor of meaningful connections. His app has more than a million downloads and will sponsor pop artist Pitbull’s first-ever concert in China on Aug. 28 in Beijing. “We take it to a much further level,” Graylin promises. Wang can only hope that Pitbull’s melodic lyrics will help Guanxi users make deals and foster relationships.