While WeChat and Weibo come first to mind for foreign brands doing business in China, few Chinese social media platforms help brands connect with their intended audience as well as Zhihu.
Zhihu is a Chinese-language Q&A platform, similar to Quora, which came online in early January 2011. Right from the beginning, Zhihu has offered similar features to Quora, including user-generated questions and answers, content voting systems, the ability to follow topics and users, and a personal messaging application.
The reason it’s a great match for foreign brands is that it provides a place to discover consumers’ pain points and desires and connect directly with customers.
Let’s take a look at this unique Chinese social media platform and how your brand can incorporate Zhihu as part of your digital marketing strategy for China.
Who uses Zhihu
Zhihu attracts a broad audience of inquisitive and well-educated users, including a large number of users with medium to high incomes and enough purchasing power to discuss premium topics such as studying, investing, and traveling overseas. Users also turn to the site for information on a range of topics including culture, retail, education, career development, TV and films, politics, sports, technology and lifestyle.
Zhihu traffic sources as of July 2018, Source: SimilarWeb
A large proportion of users arrive on the site from an organic search on Baidu and Sogou, which means Zhihu is also an effective way to improve your search engine visibility. As some readers may remember from our previous blog post (Why being ‘foreign’ is no longer enough to gain trust in China), online visibility is key to building brand trust among Chinese consumers. Zhihu is one Chinese social media platform to build an online presence without even investing in a website or registering an official Chinese social media account.
Who should post
While users can post anonymously on the platform, trust can only be truly developed through providing a real user identity. For brands, providing a real user identity may mean inviting staff (i.e. the CEO or China Manager), brand ambassadors or industry experts to provide helpful answers to questions on the site. Another fast and effective way to make an impact in the short-term is to identify and invest in cooperating with established Zhihu KOLs (key opinion leaders).
“Power-users” of Zhihu tend to have specific domains of knowledge and expertise. Take for example 陈希 (Chenxi) who has posted more than 1,700 answers on the site about the car industry and who has more than 4,400 followers.
Zhihu user Chenxi responds to the question: “Why is Audi famous but few people know about the A5 and A7?”
Perhaps due to language limitations and a heavy focus on other Chinese social platforms, there remains a low level of participation among foreign brands on Zhihu. Unlike Quora, where there’s a high presence of CEOs and company spokespeople. For example Kaiser Kuo (formerly at Baidu) and Evan Williams (formerly at Twitter) are active there.
There are, though, lucrative opportunities for foreign brands to participate as shown by Nissan in 2017. The Japanese car maker hosted a live demonstration of their luxury car division Infinity in 2017, which was viewed by 15,000 Zhihu users, along with 397 reviews and a 4.5/5 star average, underlining users’ satisfaction with the live presentation.
Other foreign brands active on the site include Airbnb, Ikea, Walt Disney, Siemens, Adidas, and Unilever.
How to post
The Zhihu platform offers a Chinese-language text editor that supports images, hyperlinks, and embedded videos and GIF animations. Zhihu also offers a feature that enables users to submit a 1–2 minute sound recording to answer questions. Users can purchase the recording for a price set by the recorder.
In addition, there is Zhihu Live, which invites top Zhihu users to prepare TED-style talks on the site, including, of course, Q&A time with the audience. Users need to pay on average 20-100 RMB to attend these live sessions. Popular topics include education, health and personal well bring, as well as design.
For individual account users, it is free to create a user account and post both questions and answers. Creating an organizational account, though, entails a separate registration process including an initial setup fee. There are also advertising costs for marketing campaigns such as live-streaming that depend on your product offering, targeted customers, and campaign goals.
You can find out more information in Chinese about Zhihu’s brand account services here and begin the registration process here. Your account will need to be approved by Zhihu and this includes uploading proof of your business license and providing other basic company details one of which is contact details of a company representative.
What to post
As part of their brand research, consumers often navigate to Zhihu from a search query (Sogou or Baidu). This offers an opportunity to highlight the benefits of your brand to potential customers or remove barriers to purchase. This may include concerns about the origin of ingredients, price, or the quality of the product/service.
For example, in May 2017, China’s dairy giant Mengniu and Zhihu cooperated to launch a “Knowledge Dialogue” video marketing campaign about product branding in the milk industry. The video included a discussion about natural techniques and science, Mengniu’s own product packaging upgrade, and an introduction to their new QR code tracking system.
But your marketing activities on the site can be as simple as answering other users’ questions, such as where to travel and what to buy on vacation.
A Zhihu user suggests Ryanair, easyJet and Skyscanner in response to another user’s question about cost-effective travel destinations
Responses should of course always be helpful. Interestingly on Zhihu this often translates into long and detailed posts with multiple images. Significant scrolling is required on behalf of the user to get to the next answer. This response from Angelene in response to a question about “Which German cosmetic products to buy” is 2,600+ characters in length and includes over 30 images! At the time of writing the post has been upvoted 194 times and has attracted 55 comments.
These types of answers reflect the intense and demanding culture of influential Zhihu users to post high-quality content (potentially on behalf of brands). It also indicates a greater level of tolerance by the Zhihu community for indirect advertising messages in comparison to Quora. It is about the same tolerance as Chinese users have when reading WeChat posts that go on seemingly forever. The Chinese simply love their Social media content exhaustively informative.
Zhihu user, Angeline, posts a detailed introduction to a German cosmetic brand. Source: Zhihu.com
Driving traffic from Zhihu
One obvious marketing ploy might seem to drive traffic to your website or e-commerce store from your employees’ or KOLs’ answers on the platform. However, it may not be the most suitable as Zhihu is first and foremost an educational platform. So, we would recommend sticking with building credibility and dialogue with consumers as the core priority when using this Chinese Social media platform.
Another good reason not to focus on driving traffic to a site is that hyperlinks incorporated into content posted on Zhihu are regarded as “no-follow” links by Chinese search engines anyway. Therefore, they do not generate SEO link juice as part of a link building strategy. Meaning that while adding the links to the content might bring more traffic to your site, it does not affect keyword ranking.
Another way to go is to drive traffic from Zhihu to other Social media apps and platforms. Not surprisingly, the live-streaming platform Bilibili and Chinese social media app WeChat (Weixin) are popular when it comes to that(according to SimilarWeb). Brands should consider adding links for further educational content and direct Zhihu users to these or similar Chinese social media platforms. This will keep the focus on helping users to learn more about the brand rather than directing them to a checkout/purchasing page which might not be desired at that stage.
Zhihu top referring and destination sites as of July 2018, Source: SimilarWeb
If you are still dead set on collecting leads you can establish an official organizational account and engage in paid marketing activities such as ads and live-streaming on the platform. But it might be best to drive the traffic to an external landing page to collect or nurture leads for a further campaign.
Next level digital marketing
Zhihu offers immense potential for brand discovery, dispelling myths, and learning from consumers. Especially if you follow a few simple rules:
- respect the platform
- cooperate with credible voices on the site
- avoid link spamming
- and emphasize quality over quantity
If you do your online presence on the platform will be rewarded in the long-term. That presence, in combination with a strong base presence on Baike, Sogou, WeChat and Weibo will help lift your brand’s marketing to the next level!
Does content about your brand already feature in a Zhihu search? Do you need help building credibility and a content presence on Zhihu? Talk to the experts at AgencyChina to craft compelling content that will inform and encourage brand awareness in China.