When it comes to digital marketing in China, people tend to think of WeChat, Weibo or new favourite, Douyin (Tik Tok).
It seems that creating a prominent profile on these platforms has become a standard requirement for brands wanting to market themselves to a Chinese audience. But despite their popularity, are they really ideal platforms for everyone?
Some brands and industries have specific target audiences that they want to reach. As a result, marketing on platforms that aren’t favoured by these audiences isn’t effective. Moreover, top platforms like WeChat and Weibo are very popular with huge user bases, so costs to launch a campaign or pay key opinion leaders (KOLs) for promotion are high.
But contrary to popular belief, Chinese social media isn’t just about WeChat and Weibo; there are plenty of other good platforms to choose from. Zhihu (知乎) is one of them.
What is Zhihu?
Zhihu, which was launched in January 2011, is a Chinese question-and-answer website like Quora. Its motto is “Share your knowledge, experiences and thoughts with the world.” On Zhihu, questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its users. In Classical Chinese, “Zhihu” means “Do you know.”
As of May 2018, the number of registered Zhihu users was more than 160 million – an increase of 95.12% over the previous year. The majority of Zhihu users are degree holders with higher incomes and stronger purchasing power.
In addition to basic questions and answers, Zhihu has also developed other functions, like Zhihu Column (知乎专栏), Zhihu Roundtable (知乎圆桌), Zhihu Bookstore (知乎书店) and Zhihu Live (知乎Live). Users can write articles, participate in discussions, read e-magazines containing the best answers related to certain industries, or give an online presentation about a specific topic and interact with an audience in real-time.
Other commonly-used functions on Zhihu (from left to right): Zhihu Column, Zhihu Roundtable, Zhihu Bookstore and Zhihu Live
In mid-2016, Zhihu started taking applications from eligible brands and organizations to create official “Organization Accounts” (机构号) and as of May 2018, more than 14,000 brands and organizations had opened one.
Who should use Zhihu for marketing?
As mentioned, Zhihu users share three major characteristics: they’re better educated, have higher incomes, and have stronger purchasing power. They are the kind of audience that many brands are striving to attract. Another advantage is that content on Zhihu is given more weight on Baidu, the most popular search engine in China, and ranks higher in its search results.
Because many users are searching for useful, practical, reliable information, Zhihu is best for brands that can offer professional knowledge or information from specific fields, including:
- brands in IT or other tech-driven industries
- B2B brands
- brands offering professional services like home decoration, education or legal and medical services.
Most people have scant knowledge of brands in these areas, especially if they’re B2B companies, so there’s a huge gap between these brands and the general public. This is why they usually don’t perform very well on top platforms like WeChat or Weibo. However, marketing on Zhihu may be more effective while enabling them to attract potential partners, business clients and fellow professionals.
How to market on Zhihu
Zhihu is different from other major social media platforms in many ways so marketing on it requires a different strategy.
1. Q&A Campaigns
Most brands start marketing on Zhihu using its basic question-and-answer function. After creating an organization account on Zhihu, the first thing they’re encouraged to do is tell users who they are and what they can bring to the platform. It’s an opportunity for a brand to make a good first impression.
After that, brands can look for questions related to their industries, products or services. Common question types on Zhihu include:
- “What is it like to be a (profession)? (…是怎样的体验?)”
- “How can I evaluate (a product/service)? (如何评价…)?”
- “What’s your opinion on (an event/ incident)? (如何看待…)?”
Brands can establish a relationship with users and build their reputation this way. It also allows them to promote themselves and introduce their products in a more professional and technical way. They can invite their internal staff, experts or key opinion leaders in their industry to answer questions for them. Answering questions on Zhihu allows them to showcase their expertise and connect with both industry experts and general users.
German automobile manufacturer Audi is a good example of how to use the site. In China, Audi was called “The Headlight Company (灯厂)” by Chinese consumers because it’s most famous for its headlights. So, soon after creating their organization account on Zhihu, Audi answered the question Why is Audi called “The Headlight Company”? (为什么说奥迪是灯厂?)
In their answer, Audi delved into the history of automobile lighting and how its headlights have evolved since the 1990s, when they first started to use xenon lights in their cars. Technical principles and the performance of each type of light were also explained. The answer got more than 5,400 likes (“upvotes” in Quora) and nearly 600 comments.
Audi answers a question about why it’s called “The Headlight Company” on Zhihu.
Brands can encourage users to ask questions and can also post questions themselves. This allows them to get high quality user-generated content, improve their user engagement and amplify their influence on social media. The recipe for success is to ask questions that resonate with users which they’re more than willing to answer.
The most common practice is for brands to post questions directly related to their products. For example, domestic smartphone manufacturer Meilan Mobile posted a question to collect feedback and professional reviews of their newly-released smartphone Meilan Note 6. Contact lens brand Acuvue asked users to share embarrassing moments caused by their poor eyesight. Later, the brand answered the question itself and offered practical vision care tips.
Mercedes-Benz, Meilan Mobile and Lego all posted questions on Zhihu.
2. Zhihu Live
In May 2016, Zhihu released “Zhihu Live,” allowing eligible individuals, brands and organizations to conduct online presentations on specific topics. Zhihu Live creates opportunities for them to provide in-depth knowledge, have a discussion and communicate with users in a more direct way. Some presentations are free while others require a small admission fee.
For a standard live presentation, speakers and attendees enter a live chat room where they can send written or voice messages, photos and videos. Speakers can also read and answer attendees’ questions in real-time. For special live presentations, often sponsored by or in co-operation with a well-known brand or enterprise, the presentation is live streamed.
An expert in AI gives a standard live presentation in a chat room.
In December last year, Infinity, the luxury vehicle division of Japanese automaker Nissan, held a special live presentation. During the 10-hour non-stop live streaming presentation, staff broke down a model car to its basic parts, explained the functions, operation principles and technical details of different parts, reassembled everything and answered questions from the audience. The presentation attracted more than 14,000 viewers and received many favourable responses. Some users commented that they had learned a lot more about vehicles.
The livestream hosted by Infinity on Zhihu was well received by the audience.
3. In-depth articles
With Zhihu Column, individuals and brands can publish articles with in-depth, professional knowledge. Given that most users on Zhihu are well-educated or experts, an article published on Zhihu will see more user engagement than the same one published on WeChat, as the general public may find this kind of niche content boring or may lack the kind of professional background necessary to appreciate it.
Siemens talked about how cool the manufacturing industry can be in its Zhihu Column, and the article got more than 1,400 likes and 775 comments.
Another feature is Zhihu Bookstore. Zhihu collects the best answers under each category regularly and compiles them according to topics and themes in an online magazine called Zhihu Weekly (知乎周刊). Eligible brands are also welcome to sponsor the publication and contribute their content.
For example, Qualcomm, a U.S. based multinational semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company, sponsored an issue of Zhihu Weekly about the development of telecommunication. At the end of the e-magazine, Qualcomm contributed an article talking about the role of Qualcomm in the coming 5G era as a leader in the telecom arena. The e-magazine was read by more than 43,000 users and received a high rating.
Qualcomm contributed to an e-magazine published by Zhihu about the development history of communications.
As a question-and-answer and knowledge-sharing platform, Zhihu is getting more and more attention from brands and organizations pursuing new and innovative digital marketing techniques. The recipe for success on Zhihu is to provide users with really helpful, relevant knowledge and facilitate communication with them.
However, it’s not easy to produce this kind of detailed content and Zhihu users usually have higher expectations for content quality and accuracy. Therefore, marketing on Zhihu requires a joint effort between various parties. So before stepping into Zhihu, think about whether Zhihu fits your brand or the industry you’re in, and be prepared for quality content production on a long-term basis.