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What is Xiaohongshu? How to Market on China’s Instagram

Xiaohongshu is a rising social media star that blends the best of Instagram and Pinterest together. In fact, Xiaohongshu now has a large, engaged, and loyal user base that brands can reach with relative ease.

To learn how to make the most of Xiaohongshu’s audience, we’ve created this guide to help marketers answer the question: “What is Xiaohongshu?” We also reveal how shoppers use the platform and what it takes for your marketing to make an impact on the app.

What is Xiaohongshu?

Part social sharing, part e-commerce platform, Xiaohongshu (which translates to Little Red Book) was kick-started by Miranda Qu and Charlwin Mao in 2013. What began as an online guide for Chinese shoppers grew into an app giant with over 200 million users — a staggering 72% of them belonging to Gen Z.

Also known as RED, Xiaohongshu offers a one-stop destination for users to discover, review, and purchase products. The platform provides audiences with content covering beauty, fashion, and entertainment.

For marketers, Xiaohongshu’s is a real opportunity. The app is highly engaging, and many brands who use it find themselves in meaningful dialogue with their consumers that creates real trust.

Xiaohongshu reinforces connections between users by building a strong community among like-minded shoppers. The community section of the app plays a vital role in promoting genuine product reviews and recommendations, helping to enhance the app’s credibility.

The app’s adaptable features set it apart from other social media platforms, with content grounded in reality. Authenticity on Xiaohongshu translates into effective marketing campaigns that resonate with audiences, resulting in higher conversion rates.

Who Uses Xiaohongshu?

Like many top social media platforms in China, “Gen Z” is the answer. The platform is a treasure trove of information for young shoppers who are looking for new product recommendations from friends and influencers, essentially blending Instagram’s social network with Pinterest’s search engine function.

According to the Fashion China Agency, in 2022, the platform had over 200 million monthly active users (MAUs). 175 million of those were born in the ’90s, and 140 million were females — or 70%.

Xiaohongshu’s users are characterized by their “love for trying new things,” as well as sharing experiences and having high purchasing power.

The app appeals to users looking for products and content around home life, families, beauty, and, most importantly of all, food.

Diving deeper, the psychological makeup of the typical Xiaohongshu user contains five key points. Let’s cover them below.

  1. High Income, High Consumption, Highly Educated.

An important characteristic of Xiaohongshu users is their high level of education. Surveys indicate that 71% of Xiaohongshu users possess a bachelor’s degree or higher. This means they are also discerning consumers.

  1. Embraces a Positive Lifestyle With a Sense of Ritual.

The concept of a “sense of ritual” is one of how Xiaohongshu users embody their ideal life attitudes and refined lifestyles.

  1. Product-Driven Purchase Decisions that Emphasize Emotional Value.

Users on Xiaohongshu exhibit a deliberate approach to consumption, weighing their personal requirements alongside the practical utility of products. The trend of “rational self-indulgent consumption” has gained momentum among Xiaohongshu users.

  1. Self-Indulgence Accompanied by Rationality.

From their emphasis on the “sense of ritual,” to their focus on “emotional value” when making purchases, and ultimately the purchasing behavior driven by the desire to “reward oneself,” all indicate that self-indulgent consumption has become a prevalent norm among Xiaohongshu users. However, this shift arises from a heightened focus on genuine needs, so don’t underplay it.

  1. High Trust in Branding

Branding’s influence endures on the app, as fashion and niche products continue to hold sway as dominant consumer preferences. Xiaohongshu users prioritize their quality of life and are open to investing in products that come with higher price tags but elevate their overall lifestyle.

Xiaohongshu has evolved beyond being merely a platform for product recommendations; it has become a genuine hub for discovering new brands. Many niche brands that have yet to penetrate the Chinese market can build up user credibility and recognition on the app.

What Do Users Like About Xiaohongshu?

Xiaohongshu has earned a special place in the hearts of its users thanks to its user-friendly interface, interactive features, and vibrant community that collectively pursues fresh, practical, and intriguing lifestyles.

Iris is a frequent user of Xiaohongshu. She admits to opening the app multiple times a day, and emphasizes that “there is a lot of trendy and niche lifestyle content shared on Xiaohongshu, which allows me to discover more novelty.”

Marketer Kelsie highlights the platform’s robust search function, emphasizing how it has become an indispensable tool for her decisions. “When it comes to choices like where to go, what to eat, or even applying for schools or searching for jobs, I often turn to Xiaohongshu to seek other people’s opinions and use them as references.”

Many Xiaohongshu users have grown so reliant on the platform that it has become their go-to search engine. This is because individuals encounter many everyday challenges, and Xiaohongshu capitalizes on this demand by offering immediate, real-time solutions. Need guidance on editing your first video? No worries, there are tutorial videos already posted. Unsure about selecting a ripe melon? Xiaohongshu has you covered with a handy checklist to ensure you pick the sweetest one. Looking for weekend getaway ideas? Simply type in your desired city and preferred activity, and you’ll be flooded with many inspiring suggestions.

Finally, what is Xiaohongshu if not for its sense of community? This fact is strengthened by active interactions where users exchange opinions in the comment section, whether it’s resolving everyday problems, suggesting products, or discussing the latest TV shows.

The platform caters to a wide range of interests, ensuring that users with various passions can connect with like-minded individuals. You’ll find a community eager to share their insights whether it’s artistic skills, daily life hacks, or fitness tips. “It’s easy to find people who share common interests with you and connect,” says Momoko, an employee at a tech company, “and the overall atmosphere within the app is welcoming.”

What Are the Differences Between Instagram and Xiaohongshu?

Though they are often compared to each other, Instagram and Xiaohongshu exhibit distinct differences in user demographics, functionality, and user experiences that make them very distinct. In summary, Instagram emphasizes showcasing personal life and fashion trends, whereas Xiaohongshu leans towards information sharing and shopping-oriented content. But let’s go over each topic in more detail.

  1. Functionality

Instagram centers on photos and video sharing, allowing users to display their lives through pictures, stories, and videos. Xiaohongshu builds on this, with users sharing informative or shopping-oriented content.

But what sets Xiaohongshu apart is its recommendation feature. Since users are inclined to search on this platform with specific objectives, content creators craft their posts around targeted keywords for which users are likely to search. Consequently, the content and topics that show up on users’ homepages often correlate with their previous search history, as well as their likes and bookmarks. Xiaohongshu also incorporates shopping features, enabling users to purchase recommended products directly through links.

  1. User interaction

On Instagram, users traditionally engage with their network through liking, commenting, and sharing posts. It also offers many interactive features, such as Stories and Reels, allowing for various content types. While interactions often revolve around one’s social circle — including friends and influencers — it’s not uncommon for users to share and engage in informational content.

In contrast, Xiaohongshu, better bridges social media and e-commerce. It’s a platform where users primarily share shopping tips, product reviews, and lifestyle insights. The community-driven atmosphere encourages users to actively question, share experiences, and exchange advice in comment sections.

However, just like Instagram, Xiaohongshu isn’t devoid of socially oriented interactions. While distinct in their primary objectives, both platforms showcase a blend of social and informational exchanges.

  1. UI/UX

Instagram adopts a clean, user-friendly design. Its visual hierarchy ensures a seamless browsing experience. Stories are positioned at the top of the screen, while a timeline and a “see translation” option enhance the user experience beneath each post. This layout allows users to easily browse the feed, discover content, and interact with others, such as in this example:

Xiaohongshu adopts a different approach, placing a stronger emphasis on content. Unlike Instagram, where images and videos’ aesthetics and visual impact are the essence, Xiaohongshu prioritizes the combination of text and videos. A cover image should be strategically paired with an intriguing title to get attention, enticing users to click and jump into the content. It looks like this:

How Does Xiaohongshu Generate Revenue?

According to the Financial Times, “80% of Xiaohongshu’s revenue came from ads, and 20% came from e-commerce.” Advertising and e-commerce are weaved into the platform in intelligent ways. For the former, there are multiple entry points, including:

  • In the Xiaohongshu community, posts are referred to as “notes.” When users tap on “Discover,” they’ll encounter an advertisement for every ten notes they come across.
  • Paid-for promotional articles.
  • Brand Profiles: These are specialized accounts on Xiaohongshu that cater to branding, product promotion, and transactions.
  • KOL Partnership Program: Xiaohongshu features the “Pugongying” platform, designed to connect brands with influential Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) they’re interested in partnering with.

On e-commerce, Xiaoghongshu has its own integrated cross-border e-commerce platform called Fulishe. The system allows Chinese consumers to purchase overseas products directly through the app.

How Can Mobile Marketers Make The Most of Xiaohongshu?

There are multiple ways to reach your audience on Xiaohongshu. Though direct advertising is a common and straightforward way to get your brand out there, you should consider influencer marketing with key opinion leaders (KOLs) and e-commerce in your overall Xiaohongshu marketing strategy. Let’s break each of these down:

Direct Advertising on Xiaohongshu

To succeed in advertising your brand on Xiaohongshu, you need to focus on three main goals:

  1. Building brand reputation.
  2. Displaying branding effectively.
  3. Engaging the audience.

Of course, you can advertise immediately when you sign up for the app’s brand account. But the platform’s algorithm heavily relies on factors such as follows, comments, collects, and likes to rank and recommend content to users’ home pages. Content with higher engagement scores gains better visibility and reaches a wider audience. As such, you must build credibility to effectively advertise your app.

Furthermore, when designing ads themselves, brands need to pay special attention to creating eye-catching titles and cover pictures. Such elements are the first users encounter before deciding whether to delve into the content. Captivating text descriptions with relevant hashtags and keyword phrases enhances search visibility and ensures the content reaches the right audience.

There are two main types of advertising on Xiaohongshu that can help you get the word out: in-feed ads and search ads. Let’s look at each in a little more detail:

In-feed Ads

Ads in the information feed can be tailored according to the user’s gender, age, and location. These ads are prominently displayed on the discovery page, aligning directly with users’ interests. On Xiaohongshu’s platform, there’s a distinction between the “Sponsored” and “Advertisement” labels. While “Sponsored” is mainly used internally within Xiaohongshu, “Advertisement” typically signifies an outbound link. Such ads play a crucial role in the initial phases of brand promotion and enhancing brand visibility.

Search Ads

In keyword searches, posts that rank higher receive greater exposure and impressions. Advertisers select relevant keywords based on their product or service characteristics, and they are charged when users search for these keywords and click on their posts. When users input keywords into the search box, the system analyzes and recognizes them, recommending the most valuable posts.

Collaborating with KOLs on Xiaohongshu

Influencers and KOLs on Xiaohongshu are known for their distinct “labels” or public perception. Influencers generally have stronger fan loyalty, while KOLs possess more persuasive influence. Popular KOLs exhibit high levels of engagement, influence, and the ability to drive sales within their niche communities. Brands can utilize influencers and top KOLs to promote their content, increasing product exposure and generating discussions. They can be reached directly through Pugongying, the app’s influencer marketing platform.

Additionally, mid-tier KOLs can aid in further dissemination, creating a collaborative environment where users actively contribute to content creation. This leads to swift user adoption and endorsement, creating a network of like-minded individuals that extends outward, propelling explosive product popularity.

How to Create Viral Content on Xiaohongshu

The secret to creating popular content on Xiaohongshu requires captivating titles and covers, appropriate emoji expressions, and relevant hashtags.

  • Titles and covers: Attractive titles and covers entice users to click and explore. Covers should be clear, highlight key points, and be aesthetically pleasing. Xiaohongshu users value aesthetics and visual experience, so avoid using low-quality images.
  • Emoji expressions: Properly divide the text into paragraphs and add emojis within the content to make the article more readable.
  • Hashtags: Adding hashtags that match the content’s theme can increase visibility and exposure opportunities. Utilizing relevant hashtags ensures that your content reaches the right audience.

Xiaohongshu’s E-commerce Opportunities

Xiaohongshu boasts an integrated e-commerce system called Xiaohongshu Mall (RED Mall). This marketplace encompasses both self-run stores and third-party brand owners, providing a platform for consumers to discover and purchase products while sharing their reviews with the community.

Despite having a relatively smaller market share than other e-commerce giants, RED Mall presents a valuable opportunity for brands to establish direct connections with consumers.

What is Xiaohongshu? It’s Your Next Marketing Success With Nativex

With Xiaohongshu’s emphasis on life-sharing, the platform opens vast opportunities for advertisers. Its community-centric approach ensures precise audience targeting. For advertisers aiming to leverage Xiaohongshu’s potential, Nativex is the ideal partner to guide the way.

We are an official Xiaohongshu Cross-Border Marketing Agency. Our expertise covers media strategy, influencer marketing, creative production, ad campaign management, and social media optimization. We can provide you with solutions that resonate with Xiaohongshu’s unique user base, ensuring meaningful impact.

We’re here to help you skyrocket your brand to success. Ready to get started? Contact Nativex to begin your next campaign.

If you want to learn more about different social media app marketing in China, take a look at our article series, What is Bilibili?, What is WeChat?, What is Kuaishou?, What is Douyin? and What is Weibo? Also, keep an eye on the marketing in APAC blog for new articles as they are released.

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