How brands can use apps like XiaoHongShu, Baidu Tieba and Ximalaya FM to reach Chinese consumers

As China’s economy continues to grow, brands are finding new ways to connect with the country’s consumers on social media.

China is set to eclipse the United States this year as the world’s largest consumer market, according to eMarketer. Rising incomes and purchasing power have been driving unprecedented demand and spending across consumer categories. Despite slowing economic growth, Chinese consumers are spending more on goods and services in 2019 and plan to spend even more in 2020, according to recent data from UBS.

As China’s economy continues to grow, brands are finding new ways to connect with the country’s consumers on social media. China boasts over 800 million netizens, 98% of whom are active mobile users, according to data published by the China Internet Network Information Center. This means that China’s digital population is larger than the total population of the U.S. and Europe combined.

Though China’s vast social media landscape is dominated by “SuperApps” like Weibo and WeChat, users are increasingly trying out new mobile apps and platforms. The average smartphone user globally has 80 apps on their device, while the average smartphone user in China has over 100 apps, according to App Annie. This offers brands a greater range of touchpoints to reach and connect with Chinese consumers.

China’s social media landscape is also becoming more diversified in terms of how users interact and use apps, according to Kantar, with 61% of Chinese consumers reporting that social media apps help them make better purchasing decisions. As Chinese consumers shop online and the landscape becomes more niche and fragmented, brands will need to look beyond Weibo and WeChat to captivate and engage audiences. Here are some apps to consider:

XiaoHongShu (Little Red Book) offers a crowdsourced shopping experience

More than 80% of Chinese luxury shoppers are on social media, according to a recent report by ParkLu. To capitalize on this coveted audience, XiaoHongShu (which literally translates to Little Red Book) helps its 60+ million registered users discover and purchase luxury, fashion and beauty products abroad and share shopping tips, fashion ideas and travel experiences.

XiaoHongShu enjoys particular favor among young, urban females looking to share shopping and lifestyle experiences, largely thanks to its reliance on user-generated content (UGC), according to Harvard Business School’s Digital Initiative. These users look beyond the fully open and accessible Weibo to avoid critique of their fashion choices by the general public. And while WeChat’s Moments feature is solely for private social networks, XiaoHongShu allows users to expand outside their social circles for wider shares, more insights and broader perspectives.

XiaoHongShu has launched its XiaoHongShu’s purchasing platform, which provides a crowdsourced shopping experience based on trust, community and convenience. As opposed to larger e-commerce platforms that attract audiences across China’s large population, XiaoHongShu gives brands access to a more precise audience: 90% of the users are women and 80% are under the age of 30, according to the company.

Baidu Tieba allows brands to join conversations & directly interact with consumers

Often overshadowed by online platforms Weibo and Zhihu, Baidu Tieba claims the largest online community of registered users with over 1.5 billion people. The platform connects people to individual tieba, literally translated to ‘let’s post’ and more loosely translated to mean ‘forum’ or ‘group’, according to their interests and creates communities across a wide variety of topics. If a tieba does not already exist, users can create one within a few clicks and they become the founder of their own keyword discussion group.

The selling point for Baidu Tieba is that it is completely UGC oriented and highly interactive in that the community produces, drives and promotes the content. Due to the level of interaction, brands don’t need to enlist key opinion leaders (KOLs) to gain exposure. All they have to do is post content that is interesting enough to get users to engage. It’s also appropriate for hyper-targeted group marketing and allows niche brands to reach smaller segments of China’s massive population. Because it is supported by Baidu, the tiebas are typically ranked highly in organic search results.

Ximalaya FM tunes brands into China’s population

In the past, China’s population relied heavily on public transportation, spending their commute perusing social media, watching videos and reading books. But as China rapidly industrializes, more people are driving cars to work— the number of registered vehicles has topped 300 million (nearly the population of the U.S.). And this transportation shift is rapidly changing not just the way the population gets around, but also how they consume media. As people look to make the most out of their commutes, podcasts and audiobooks—which had not previously been as popular in China as they were in other markets—are now booming.

Ximalaya FM is the most popular podcasting and audio sharing platform in China, with about 500 million active users. It introduced a paid section in 2016 which currently boasts about 4 million users, according to the company. The podcast library has various sections from books, livestreaming, parenting, Chinese crosstalk, business and finance.

Maintaining a presence on Ximalaya FM is a savvy cost-effective option for brands seeking to amplify content without investing in a huge promotional budget. Brands can choose to deploy ad campaigns, sponsor KOL-endorsed branded content programs or even create their own channels.

Looking ahead

The current digital technology ecosystem in China is one of frenzied change and rapid innovation—and social media apps and platforms are at the very forefront of connecting consumers and brands. While Weibo and WeChat still dominate in terms of numbers, China’s social media landscape is coming of age and diversifying.

Emerging platforms are appealing to niche consumer segments and delivering curated content to create meaningful engagement, allowing brands to join conversations, connect with audiences and influence consumer behavior. By leveraging these platforms, a brand can gain clout and succeed in the world’s most dynamic and lucrative social media-driven consumer market.

Sunshine Farzan is the group head of marketing and communications at Tricor Group.

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