What is Zhihu? Quite simply, it’s China’s largest Q & A platform, almost like a local form of Quora. Whilst it may look a lot like Quora, over time the functions have increased more and more. In Europe when you have a tricky question that you don’t know the answer to, many people turn to Google to search for the answer, however in China millions of people turn to the comprehensive Q & A platform Zhihu (知乎).
What is Zhihu? How did the platform start?
If you google “what is Zhihu” one answer which comes up is the one on the Quora platform itself: “Zhihu is the copycat of Quora”. That’s something that makes me laugh, but at the same time feel a bit sad as it just shows the typical attitude to China tech – “just a copycat”. Those days are gone as China’s platforms develop further and faster than in other countries
The name Zhihu literally translates to “do you know?” in classical Chinese and the users can post and answer questions as well as liking or sharing them. The motto of Zhihu is “Share your knowledge, experiences and thoughts with the world.”
The platform was launched in 2011 and differentiated itself by providing high-quality questions combined with credible in-depth answers. Since those early days, Zhihu has evolved to become a super community with social tools, media, services and e- commerce capabilities. This combination of on the one hand Q&A and on the other social, are what makes Zhihu such a valuable platform for brands.
IPO March 2021
While Quora failed to live up to its expectations & faded into obscurity, its Chinese equivalent, Zhihu (NYSE:ZH), has outgrown its U.S. counterpart. In late March, Zhihu completed its IPO and went public. It raised $523 million from its 55 million share offering and by end April 2021 had a valuation of $4.9 billion. Interestingly, Zhihu also raised $250 million in a private share sale to major Chinese tech players, including Alibaba, JD.com, and Tencent. Zhihu also counts search engine Baidu and video platform Kuaishou among its shareholders.
Who are the users?
83% of users (according to Zhihu’s own statistics) are under 35 and the majority of them have a degree. A large proportion are between 25 & 35, making the user base “older” than many of the other platforms. Consequently they have relatively high incomes and strong purchasing power compared to users on other platforms too. Users are mostly looking for high-quality, detailed content and insights from the platform and around half of them are based in tier 1 cities (including the new tier 1 cities).
Initially the platform was invitation or referral only, but since 2013 it’s been open to the general public, although users have to be registered to ask/answer questions or to message other users.
What are the users looking for on Zhihu?
The platform aims to provide in depth insights from industry professionals, making it attractive for B2B brands to do content marketing for their products.
There is a Zhihu university offering as well as consultancy services, so Zhihu is becoming a pioneer in pay-for-education-as-a-service in China. (Potentially in 5 years, you might therefore get a very different answer to the question, what is Zhihu?)
Which types of B2B products should think about Zhihu?
Many brands have already recognised the potential of Zhihu and started a presence on the platform. These include companies such as Audi, Siemens, Canva, AirBnB or Alipay.
High end consumer products, which require some kind of explanation to appreciate all their benefits are suitable. eg Digital products, electrical appliances, baby products, skin care. However specialty consumer products and services are also gaining popularity such as education, insurance, or especially in 2020, medical topics.
Users are able to build a personal profile, including their education, qualifications and experience to prove their credibility for answering questions and are incentivised to good behaviour such as friendliness, content creation, community building and keeping the Zhihu guidelines. Users who gain high scores (what’s called a “salt value” on the platform) based on these metrics may receive preferential treatment such as faster moderation of their content, priority if they have questions for customer service etc.
Advantages of using Zhihu for B2B marketing
You can give really in-depth answers to questions on here that don’t purely rely on text book information but which are related to your real-life experience. Those answers also have a long tail effect, which is quite rare on Chinese platforms, especially in the era of the livestream. Obviously, writing a long form article is also considerably less cost-intensive than churning out continuous short video content and the generally higher education standard of the users means they are prepared to spend the time to read more long form content.
Case study: Audi, the “headlight company”
In 2017, Audi launched a Q&A campaign answering questions related to their brand. For example: “How did the brand get the nickname ‘The Head Light Company’?”. Audi submitted answers to these questions in a long- form article with technical illustrations. This content was further enhanced by Zhihu’s users who added additional responses based on their own understanding.
The topic generated 444 responses from different users and the most relevant answers gathered thousands of upvotes. Over 3,500 people followed this specific question and Audi’s answer was upvoted nearly 8,000 times. This topic has been viewed nearly 10 million times and other posts by Audi are featured in the related section in the area to the right next to the post itself, thus boosting the rest of the brand’s content.
Marketing on Zhihu
As with any content marketing platform, it’s essential to provide enough high quality content, and as mentioned when looking at Bilibili or Kuaishou, or any other kinds of social commerce, consistency is important. Additionally, it’s important to remember that the Chinese market can absorb a huge amount of content, far more than Europe or the US.
Once you’ve put posts out there, you also need to continue to engage with those people who respond or react to your post, pretty much as you would on a platform such as LinkedIn. Only difference is that with China speed, they will expect faster reactions. The higher the quality of your content and engagements, the more authority you can build, which in turn will help the algorithm.
Q & A Type Campaigns
This is the place where most brands begin, as this was the original core business of the platform. Here, companies and brands can demonstrate their expertise by posing and answering questions related to their products or services. This allows them to build brand awareness and connect with consumers or show competency to potential business partners. It’s key to remember that these questions should be answered in a more technical way to really show in-depth knowledge – you’re talking to users who have knowledge of the industry concerned and who are interested in learning more.
Long Form Articles
Zhihu Column (知乎专栏) is where individuals and brands can write longer form media-rich articles to showcase their knowledge or certain technical features of a product. The users on Zhihu have the education required to understand more complex articles and this leads to higher engagement on niche content than you could expect on most other platforms, making it ideal for doing B2B marketing.
It’s possible to include images, videos or infographics to illustrate your points more clearly so you should take advantage of that.
Other possibilities on Zhihu
Here a wide range of paid education resources are offered such as online courses, audio books or even training camps. There are over 6 million users of this feature, so it obviously has potential if you are looking to offer some kind of educational services in China. Cooperating with Zhihu to produce professional learning materials such as videos or magazines can have a good ROI.
These live streaming sessions are popular with users (as per the general trend to live streaming in China). On Zhihu, users appreciate the fact that they can ask questions and receive the answers in real time. Additionally these livestreams are extremely affordable to for users to join. One example for brands could be for a cosmetic company to live stream a beginner make up class, or a home appliance manufacturer could demonstrate how to set up the product for optimal efficiency.
Case Study – Nissan Infiniti
Infiniti is the luxury vehicle division of Japanese automaker Nissan, who conducts marketing campaigns in over 50 countries. To educate the public about the functionality of an Infiniti automobile, Infiniti held a FREE live presentation on Zhihu.
During the 10-hour live streaming presentation, two “excellent answerers” in the automobile field were invited to break down a model car – Q50 Hybrid to its basic parts, explaining the functions, operation principles and technical details of different components, reassembling everything and answering questions from the audience. Through this “Vehicle Anatomical” class, the audience acquired professional knowledge of the vehicle structure and got to know more about Infiniti’s car model.
The live presentation was a great success, attracting more than 16,000 viewers and many favourable responses. Viewers reflected that the live session was very useful and they had learned a lot more about vehicles. Through providing a rewarding lesson to the viewers, Infiniti not only raised its brand awareness among car lovers but also confirmed their image as a professional, high-end car manufacturer.
Users are able to pay to consult with specific professionals in their field of choice – this allows professionals to earn some additional income on the platform too.
Zhihu users can choose to pay to consult with specific users (users need a high credibility score to register as a consultant) either publicly or privately, and consultants can answer their questions with voice recordings. For public questions, your question will be viewable by other users, and other users can pay a smaller fee to listen to the answer as well. (The question asker is entitled to 50% of the proceeds from other listeners.) After your question is answered, you can pay an extra amount for follow-up questions.
To ensure timely and efficient replies, Zhihu enforces strict rules that if the question is not answered within 72 hours or the answer is not satisfactory, askers can get their money back. This helps the platform maintain their authority position with all major Chinese search engines, which is a key advantage for any brand looking to seed content here.
With the Little Blue Star function, users can recommend (or “not recommend”!) and review products which are presented. This section includes many digital or skin care products which are then placed in a ranking list for their category.
Users can click through from the product page to buy on JD.com, Taobao or Pinduoduo and such purchases will earn the content creator an affiliate commission.
Key Advantages of using Zhihu for B2B Marketing
- The educated user base is interested in detailed content and has a higher purchasing power. They are primarily looking to improve their professional knowledge (as opposed to being purely entertained) and are therefore suitable for brands targeting better educated and more affluent consumers
- You can raise your brand awareness amongst consumers and peers by answering questions, writing articles etc and generally demonstrating your authority in your chosen specialisation.
- Brand marketers can use the platform for market research as there is such a wealth of information available. This option shouldn’t be underestimated for new brands on the market.
- You can build trust through 3rd party mentions. Whilst overt promotion isn’t well accepted, brands can gain influence in the long term that can be used for soft selling.
- Zhihu has great authority on the major search engines, Baidu and Sogou, with Q&As ranking highly in results – this is a sign of the credibility the platform has, as it often even ranks higher than major news outlets. Zhihu also ranks highly within the WeChat search function.
- There is the possibility for both advertising and sales on the platform.
Using Zhihu effectively
As you can see, the question “what is Zhihu” can be answered easily on the surface but in actual fact this is more than simple a Q&A platform, as users come here to have access to a huge range of knowledge. To be successful here requires great quality content and consistency in your approach, however it can deliver great results especially in combination with other platforms. In the end, consistency is a key to success on any platform, that isn’t unique to Zhihu, but it’s not easy to continuously produce high quality informative content. (Remember, China is a “content guzzler”, requiring considerably more than in Europe or North America).
If you want to gain authority, then you need to be here as a brand, but you can’t expect overnight success. Content marketing takes time, energy and investment, however the high credibility of the platform can be worth the effort. For the future Zhihu will have to continue to invest energy to remain credible and relevant, as wel as a source of authoritative information.
It’s essential to have a clear strategy as to how you will engage with potential customers on the platform as otherwise you will be wasting your time. Register an official account on the platform and use it to interact with your potential future partners. Now that you know what Zhihu is, build it into your strategy for selling successfully in China. Other platforms that might be useful for you in China (& which are less-well known for foreign brands) include Bilibili, Kuaishou & Toutiao. If you need support with developing that strategy, I’d be happy to help you – see the link below.
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