You’ve no doubt heard of Weibo and WeChat. With over 500 million and one billion Monthly Active Users respectively, these two gargantuan Chinese social media channels offer innumerable opportunities for brands to reach, engage, and convert consumers.

Yet their popularity among users and companies has also driven up advertising costs, making it challenging for brands to cut through market noise and consistently deliver return on investment. For companies in the B2B space or in specialized industries that need to educate consumers on product or service benefits (like the health or organic industry), this can result in high customer acquisition costs and long paths to purchase.

To overcome these marketing pain points, brands can leverage Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website similar to Quora, to publish conversion-driving content, reach a targeted audience, and increase profitability.

Zhihu is a Chinese social media channel with a base of users that typically enjoy higher incomes than average social media users

Zhihu was launched in January 2011 and has steadily become a trusted resource of internet users looking for reliable information on a wide range of topics.

Tapping in to the channel’s tagline “Discover a bigger world”, Zhihu users are curious consumers, seeking reliable advice and guidance from subject experts: whether from an influencer that’s known for fitness and nutrition, a mother recommending how to choose infant formula for her baby, or an industry professional comparing tools on how to select the right insurance provider.

Zhihu users have several options for platform membership, with some opting to subscribe for a small recurrent fee in order to have access to the full spectrum of features this Chinese social media platform has to offer. This type of commitment makes them active and engaged members of the community.

For international brands who don’t benefit from a website domain hosted in China, Zhihu increases exposure by ranking content high on Baidu search results

Zhihu supports its mission to share knowledge, experiences, and thoughts with the world by providing a range of interaction points, from an academy with e-courses, a bookshop, columns, and live-streaming. Zhihu Columns, for example, is a place for individuals or brands to publish articles. These typically get much higher engagement than articles published on WeChat, since Zhihu’s user base are actively searching for in-depth, long-form content.

These content pieces have the added benefit of ranking high on Baidu, China’s most popular search engine (unlike WeChat articles, for example). This provides valuable exposure to consumers at the discovery stage of the consumer journey, particularly for brands who do not have a company registered in China and therefore can’t register a .cn domain. The longevity of articles on Zhihu, and therefore on Baidu, means that even one piece of highly valuable content published on a product is enough to drive significant conversion on e-commerce channels.

Low cost, big impact: Zhihu allows brands to build trust, reach audiences and drive conversion organically thanks to social listening and insights into trending topics

At its core, Zhihu is a basic question-and-answer platform. Brands can participate on both sides of content creation from their official organisation account, as well as collaborate with third parties to generate content on their behalf, such as influencers or Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs). The platform is structured in a way that even an ordinary user with 50 followers can rank in the top 10 search results for popular topic categories, reaching 30,000-50,000 views organically (an experiment tried and tested by our team).

The key to maximizing return on investment for your marketing strategy is to analyze trending topics and consumer sentiment through social listening. While established influencers can help boost the number of views for a post, relevant and timely content provides more valuable in the long-run – the best posts get pinned to the top of the relevant industry section for several months at a time – a rewarding investment for building long-term brand awareness and trust.

Brands can adopt several approaches to marketing on Zhihu that offer significant advantages compared to other Chinese social media channels

Aside from offering cost-effective opportunities to increase exposure, for example through Zhihu advertisements or by collaborating with influencers, the platform ecosystem is designed in a way that allows brands to interact directly with their target audiences in a way that nurtures relationships and builds trust.

A good starting point for brands is to create an organisation account, which allows them to introduce their value proposition to consumers and establish their desired brand image through tone of voice and key marketing communications. Brands can of course post questions themselves to encourage community interactions, but they can also invite their own ambassadors, such as thought leaders or specialists, to answer questions on their behalf: helping to build the foundations for becoming trusted experts in the field.

Key takeaways for marketing on Zhihu: one of the most underrated Chinese social media platforms

  • Zhihu has a strong, active userbase of consumers who tend to be well-educated, well-informed, and who enjoy a high disposable income compared to their peers
  • The attractive longevity of Zhihu posts delivers return on investment for brands over time and can dramatically increase visibility for brands on Baidu who don’t benefit from a website registered in China
  • Zhihu content is informative and detailed: great for brands selling products or services that typically require educating consumers (such as fitness products, health supplements, or niche industries such as organic) or a lengthy consideration phase before purchase (such as B2B)

IMS helps clients improve their marketing strategy in China by championing data-driven strategies. Our social media and content teams work closely with our Business Intelligence team to put consumer insights at the heart of every brand communication, optimizing activities for the brands we manage. Whether you’re launching a product for the first time or trying to meet sales targets set by your stakeholders, IMS can help you adopt an effective strategy to sell to Chinese consumers.