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What is Zhihu? Our Guide to China’s Q&A Platform

What is Zhihu? Directly translating to “Do you know,” Zhihu is the largest question-and-answer (Q&A) content community in China. Zhihu’s mission is “to enable people to share knowledge, experience, and insights better, and to find their own answers.”

Users flock to Zhihu to seek information and insights on almost everything, whether academic inquiries, historical facts, nutrition advice, or even everyday life hacks. Not only do certified experts provide authoritative answers in their respective fields, but general users can also kickstart discussions among the community. While it is often compared to Quora, Zhihu offers a wider range of features for its users and marketers.

If you want to leverage Zhihu to promote your business, this Nativex guide offers an in-depth exploration of the app. Learn how to effectively utilize this influential Q&A platform to enhance your business’s presence and engagement.

What is Zhihu?

Launched in 2011, Zhihu has grown to become China’s preeminent online Q&A platform. Initially, it was exclusively invite-only, and the first users included leading entrepreneurs and industry professionals. This approach was aimed at ensuring high-quality content; Zhihu’s invitation code was even perceived as a symbol of techno-elitism at that time.

But in 2013, and amid a lot of hype, Zhihu opened its doors to the public leading to a dramatic expansion of its user base. The number of registered users experienced a ten fold increase to 4 million in one year, with monthly acive users (MAUs) increasing from 2 million to 35 million. This user growth broadened the scope of topics from niche, elite-focused areas such as history and science to more mainstream interests, such as pop culture and entertainment.

In 2017, Zhihu began to commercialize the platform, monetizing through advertising and knowledge services. As it expanded its offerings and restructured its sections, Zhihu also started collaborating with various brands, integrating ads into its content.

As of the third quarter of 2023, Zhihu disclosed in its report that the platform has 10.5 million MAUs and 14.8 million monthly subscribing members. Its reputation for authoritative content and diverse viewpoints makes it a trusted resource for those seeking knowledgeable insights and answers.

How is Zhihu different from Quora?

Zhihu started similarly to Quora. Both platforms allow users to ask, follow, and edit questions, as well as to answer, upvote, and share answers. However, Zhihu developed a different path, transforming beyond Q&A to a content platform.

To this day, Quora is maintaining its original form as a Q&A website. On the other hand, Zhihu is evolving into a platform that combines Quora, Coursera, and X (formerly known as Twitter).

So, what are some key features Zhihu has but Quora lacks?

Trending List

Zhihu’s Trending List is the platform’s ranking of the most popular topics. Unlike the Recommend List which personalizes feeds to cater to individual users, the Trending List is uniform across the platform, indicating that questions on the list receive a significant amount of exposure. The Trending List is updated in real time based on user interactions, such as likes, comments, and shares, as well as impressions.

The Trending list covers a wide range of topics, including technology, culture, and entertainment; users can browse the list to stay informed as well as participate in these discussions to share their views.

Articles, moments, and videos

Articles on Zhihu are, essentially, blog posts. Authors must give the articles a formal title and select a specific topic, and the articles will undergo a system review before being formally published. The creator can make edits to the articles if necessary. Most of these are focused on knowledge sharing.

The Moment feature on Zhihu is called “thoughts”, just like the posts on Xiaohongshu are called “notes.” Unlike articles, Moments are characterized by their brevity and informality. Users can make a post about anything without selecting a specific topic or undergoing a system review. However, once published, these posts cannot be edited. This feature allows creators to share insights more conveniently, encouraging more interactions within the community.

Zhihu’s video feature is designed for short-form content, allowing users to either convert answers and articles into videos or upload their edited videos. While platforms such as TikTok have led to a surge in short videos, those contents primarily focus on the entertainment category. Zhihu’s video feature aims to open up a section for knowledge-based videos, as this format enables creators to explain concepts more concretely for some complex topics.

Paid membership

“Salt Elected Membership” is the membership service launched by Zhihu in 2019. The service aims to provide its users with easy access to high-quality paid content on a subscription basis. The members enjoy benefits from content, function, and identity. Let’s look at each:

Content Benefits

Members can enjoy a great amount of quality content for free. Currently, members have access to over 34,000 selected popular e-books and audiobooks, over 600 books with expert narration, over 8,000 special columns and live lectures, and thousands of high-quality magazines. While regular users need to pay for access to certain content and for attending online lectures hosted by experts, members can enjoy all of them for free.

Function Benefits

Members have several special privileges in functions. They can post images in comment sections, pin their answers or articles on their personal page, and set up keyword blocking to prevent certain content from showing up on the homepage’s “Recommendation” section.

Identity Benefits

Members can enjoy the benefit of personalizing their identities, such as exclusive emojis and membership badges. They also gain access to dedicated customer service with priority problem resolution and faster responses.

Who are Zhihu’s users?

Zhihu’s user base consists of content creators and general users. However, the platform encourages all of its users to contribute through questions and comments, fostering a community with a blend of different voices.

In terms of demographics, Zhihu has a relatively young and balanced user community:

  • Gender: The gender distribution on Zhihu is relatively even, with females accounting for about 48.5% of average MAUs (Annual Report).
  • Age: Over 74% of Zhihu’s users are under 30 years old (Annual Report).
  • Geographic Location: Most users are from first and second-tier cities, indicating a user base with potentially higher spending power.

Overall, these characteristics define Zhihu’s users as those who have a strong pursuit of knowledge and are open to new ideas. Their willingness to invest in quality content and active participation in the community also adds significant commercial value to the platform.

How Does Zhihu Generate Revenue?

Zhihu’s monetization model is centered around content. According to its annual report, Zhihu generates revenue from ads, paid membership, content-commerce solutions, and vocational training, among other services. Notably, paid membership is Zhihu’s leading revenue contributor, followed by content-commerce solutions and advertising, each accounting for 34.1%, 28.6%, and 25.7%, respectively.

Compared to the previous year, Zhihu observed a decline in its advertising revenue but saw growth across all other revenue channels. This trend reflects a shift in focus for advertisers, moving away from traditional ads towards content-based performance marketing that is more interactive and customized.

Zhihu’s content-commerce solution service helps businesses connect with creators to develop tailored content around their products and services, fostering increased engagement and conversion. Especially since Zhihu is a content-centric platform, it facilitates stronger user interactions than other social media, making it an ideal platform for generating viral discussions.

Moreover, Zhihu is diversifying paid membership services to include a broader variety of content formats such as videos, audio, and live streaming. While the perception of paid membership is often limited to accessing exclusive written content, Zhihu has expanded its offerings. For instance, live-streaming lectures have become a significant revenue source, alongside video and audio content.

How Can Marketers Make the Most of Zhihu?

Paid Advertising

Businesses and brands can register an official business account on Zhihu. After completing the verification process, businesses can apply for Zhi+, the content-commerce solution offered by Zhihu’s business team. Zhi+ helps businesses create content with high user value, find relevant creators to produce quality content, and formulate interactive content so that brands can reach target audiences and convert them more effectively.

The most common ad type is newsfeed ads, where such ads are integrated into the page’s feed. These ads can come in image or video format with customizable call-to-actions and will drive users to the desired destination, whether it is the app store or an e-commerce page. Besides, Zhihu also features pop-up ads that show up upon opening the app. Although they are less detailed than the newsfeed ads, these ads are still impactful since they can easily catch users’ attention.

Q&A Campaigns

Brands can start with Q&A campaigns to increase visibility on Zhihu. They can post and answer questions related to their industries, products, or services to demonstrate industry expertise and connect with users who are interested in those topics. Consistently providing high-quality answers in their field can help brands establish a solid reputation. Additionally, posing questions that resonate with the user community can encourage user-generated content, further amplifying the brand’s influence.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The credibility of the answers and the active participation of users allow Zhihu’s content to get excellent initial ranking on China’s mainstream search engines, such as Baidu, as well as WeChat’s in-app search. In addition, Zhihu has a high domain authority that is comparable to that of major news websites like Sina, making its content easier to rank high on the search engine results page.

Moreover, Zhihu allows users to include external website links in answers and articles. These backlinks are highly effective in generating social traffic, and users who are directed to the website from Zhihu tend to have a lower overall bounce rate since they are interested in the content and will stay longer. In fact, Zhihu is one of the best platforms for B2B brands to generate social traffic to their business websites.

Zhihu Live

Zhihu Live sessions provide an opportunity for industry professionals to share insights in real-time and interact with participants for questions and answers.

While Zhihu members have free access to all the live sessions, ordinary users need to pay a small fee to join and listen to the presentation. Topics for these live streams can be knowledge sharing, industry-specific insights, or even product promotion for e-commerce. Brands can research popular topics and questions from their target audiences, and organize content accordingly to promote the products and services.

Collaborate with Key Opinion Leaders

Unlike KOLs on other social media platforms, Zhihu’s KOLs are typically experts from different fields. When selecting KOLs to collaborate, brands should research industry or topic-specific accounts with positive reviews and wide reach to enhance the brand influence and to connect with the target audience group.

In addition, since Zhihu allows creators to implement external links to their content, KOLs may integrate recommended product or service links into their answers. The clicks and conversions generated from these links will not only benefit the brand but also bring monetary value to the creators, creating a mutually beneficial situation.

Here is an example post by a KOL in the coffee industry. In this post, he evaluated coffee beans, drip coffee, and freeze-dried coffee from different brands, and included the purchasing link for some of his recommended products.

Reviewing the Facts

If you’re looking to tap into Zhihu’s potential for app marketing, Nativex is the ideal partner to help you scale. Our expertise in the local market and insightful strategies can propel your brand to success. Reach out to us to boost your brand’s presence on Zhihu and across many other social media sites around the globe.

Want to learn more about China’s app ecosystem? Explore our “What is” series covering LINE, Dianping, WeChat, and Weibo. Stay tuned for upcoming content on our blog and follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook for the latest updates.

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