Just when you thought you had your Chinese social media sorted, and your WeChat and Weibo accounts are verified, populated and beginning to pay dividends, people start asking if you are on Xiaohongshu (or Little Red Book, or Red Book, or just ‘RED’ – it’s all the same thing).
Red Book is one of China’s fastest growing social media platforms and, even though you may not have heard of it before, it’s been around for quite a while. It was launched in 2013 and it’s probably best understood as ‘Chinese Instagram with a spattering of Pinterest’ although, like every Chinese social media platform, it goes above and beyond its Western equivalents.
Red Book’s roots lie in the beauty industry. When it launched, it offered a host of amateur beauty enthusiasts an opportunity to post image and video-led content reviewing their favourite cosmetics, in particular those global brands which were not mainstream in China. Users share tips about which products to buy, how to apply them, and where to find the best prices. Other users are invited to like the post, comment on the reviews, interact with the original poster, and save the reviews for future reference.
The platform also allows its users to collate content onto their own themed boards, as you might with Pinterest.
Who is on Red Book (or Xiaohongshu)?
Xiaohongshu’s following has continued to grow over the course of the pandemic, and by October 2021, the brand claimed its audience had grown to over 200 million monthly active users. Still small potatoes compared to the 1.2 billion of WeChat, but these are not comparable stats. WeChat is used for all sorts of personal admin, like booking appointments, sending money, chatting to friends, as well as its ‘purer’ social media functions. Xiaohongshu is about being inspired, researching products, then buying them. It’s fast growing, on trend, innovative and, importantly, trusted by its users.
The growth is set to continue. Throughout the pandemic, as household incomes became more fragile and a heightened sense of responsibility for personal health and welfare prevailed, China’s younger consumers have become more focused on researching their purchases to ensure they are buying the right products and services at the right prices.
Thanks to its beauty heritage, Red Book’s customer profile is heavily slanted towards young women, and although the share of male users is growing, women still make up over 65% of the audience; 18-35 year olds, with high disposable incomes, well educated, and from Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. This is the most fertile ground for luxury, fashion, beauty and leisure brands and why Red Book is included within their plans as an important marketing and distribution channel.
Authenticity is highly valued in China
For users, Xiaohongshu has built a good reputation, adhering closely to its brand values of trust and authenticity; hugely important in a country exposed to fakes and imitation. The platform sets itself firmly apart from some of the accusations of false reviews, inauthenticity and ‘bought followers’ that can plague other social media sites in China. You can’t post anonymously and there are no options for one click ratings. If you want to state your opinion on a product, you will need to write a detailed comment or note, and this makes for more authentic and considered opinions which then leads to a higher degree of trust for the site’s content amongst its loyal base. It is also a condition that any sponsored post is clearly highlighted as being commercial, further maintaining the integrity of the platform.
Brands themselves will not be accepted onto the platform until they have been through an application and verification process. Site security is highly valued.
Some of the more recent campaigns veer away from the portrayal of the perfect social media persona of yesteryear, and towards a more ‘real’ experience. For example, the four most recent press releases from Red Book over March/April 2022 include the stories of a plus size dancer and a supermodel grandmother, a drive for independent fashion labels, and a campaign to support the parents of autistic children. A far cry from the picture perfect world of the heavily stylised and air brushed celebrity KOL of the 2010s, and a further indication of the trend towards authenticity being seen throughout Chinese culture as we move through the 2020s.
Brand marketing on Red Book
Xiaohongshu is not just a community site, it also operates as a powerful e-commerce site. As a brand, you can set up your own digital shop or you can sell your product to Xiaohongshu to be distributed to purchasers.
There are various advertising options available to you as a brand on Red Book. But these are rarely one-dimensional ad spaces. Campaigns are integrated with off line events, user experiences, and collaborations with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) or influencers. Virtual gifting campaigns are popular with gifts ranging from NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens) to animated cards to gaming skins.
But it’s not all about the big budgets. Low cost, traffic-driving promotions can also be run on Red Book, allowing audience segmentation and giving brands the opportunity to gauge interest and test reactions.
Becoming an influencer on Red Book
On Red Book, if you have a style, a story, and the time and energy to post, you can build a good following quite quickly and, once you have the audience and become a micro-influencer, you can work with brands and command a fee to sell their products via promotional links from your content. These links are clearly identified as commercial, but the credibility of the poster, the depth of the content, and the interactions and support of other users give huge confidence to the purchaser and facilitate the sale. A well respected, credible influencer with a decent following can transform the fortunes of a brand on Red Book.
Which brands should be on Xiaohongshu?
For global cosmetic, fashion and luxury items, Xiaohongshu offers one of the best routes to market and opportunity to sell to China’s young, urban, female middle classes. The top five brand searches over Valentine’s Day 2022 reflected this; Apple, Chanel, YSL, Louis Vuitton and Dior. But lots of other industries have started to appreciate the value of Red Book. Most travel influencers now offer Red Book as part of their suite of outlets, with museums, attractions, hotels and restaurants benefiting greatly from the kind of image-led, authentic content generated by their customers. Video is widely used, which also offers destinations a great opportunity to showcase their highlights in a visual and engaging manner.
International Chinese students LOVE Red Book
Because Red Book is packed with inspiration and reviews about global brands, Red Book is a great source of information for Chinese students studying overseas, often in the home of some of these luxury fashion and beauty brands. It is also widely used by students to research restaurants, hotel and attractions and educate themselves on how best to spend their leisure time. Red Book gives students a great opportunity to offer useful information their friends back home, and to share their experiences, good or bad, to help other Chinese travellers, tourists, students and residents make the best decisions on what to buy, where to go and what to do.