Editor’s note: A version of this post first appeared on WalktheChat’s website. WalktheChat specializes in helping foreign organizations access the Chinese market through WeChat, the largest social network on the mainland.
“If you have a question, search on Zhihu,” they say. This may best summarize the biggest knowledge sharing platform in China, whose 7-year-old database boasts over 100 million answers.
Bottomline, being a Q&A website, the ability to provide useful and trustworthy answers means everything. To a knowledge-seeking crowd, Zhihu is a goldmine for useful and high-quality content, where “worthless” answers are eliminated like unsightly weeds on a park-like lawn, thanks to their artificial intelligence programs that identify spam and delete offensive posts, keeping results relevant and tailored to a user’s personal interests.
Who is on Zhihu, and why?
Zhihu benefits from a specific kind of users which a lot of brands are looking for. Their typical audience is used to reading long articles and enjoy serious discussions. The users are:
Well-educated (80% registered users have a bachelor’s degree or above, according to an iResearch report),
Well-paid (30% of them earn more than RMB 10,000 a month, while the majority of internet users earn between RMB 2,000 to RMB 5,000 per month), and 40% of them live in first and second-tier cities
According to Zhihu, more than 70% of the users are there to seek professional knowledge and self-improvement. Authenticity, genuinely and professionalism is their core value to users.
Zhihu also has a rather old population for a social App: 78.2% of its users are 25 years old or older. This makes the platform the ideal channel to target older, more affluent users, and makes Zhihu a perfect fit for B2B marketing.
Zhihu also has a predominantly male audience, which is a rather rare and remarkable fact for Chinese social platform.
A story of Zhihu
Once considered little more than a Quora copycat, Zhihu has become China’s biggest knowledge sharing platform. They claim to have 160 million registered users, and more than 26 million daily users spending an hour on average on the site. In fact, it has become the primary channel for users to learn expert insights on various topics from corresponding professionals.
When it was first founded in 2011, Zhihu was only available to a select group of initial users by invitation and referral. Others could apply and waited to be approved. They are professional elites in their perspective industries, who were there to host professional discussions and in turn attract new users. This strategy in their early stage ensured a certain standard of the users and a “clean” history of sharing quality content.
The site racked up 400,000 users in its first two years and started opening registration in 2013.
While Zhihu’s primary service is still the free Q&A platform, with tens of millions of knowledge-hungry users under their belt, they began extending services to paid content in 2017, targeting especially those looking to further their careers. Their current revenue streams include paid consulting, interactive online Q&As, pay-per-view live-streamed talks, podcasts, and e-books, many written or edited by top users.
In the same year, Zhihu started letting companies and organizations set up their official accounts, official setting itself up as a platform to create brand value.
Always add value
Success on Zhihu is dependent on the quality of your content. While representing a brand on the forum, it is not the time to keyword-stuff or self-advertise. And, personality is a plus.
A user once asked about Audi’s specialties. The brand itself stepped up to the place, starting jokingly, “An invite to self-promote! We will try not to get carried away,” followed by a comprehensive answer that is both informative and visually appealing, with images and diagrams where possible, and bullet points to break up the text, no fluffy or self-promotional sentences, just the very information the user asked for, finished with a shoutout to their WeChat account and links to their top Zhihu posts. In a nutshell, they invest resources to create “gan huo”(干货), i.e. in-depth, professional content that one can’t find anywhere else.
“What are some common acronyms a lot of people don’t know what they stand for?”
You wouldn’t have guessed the top answer to this question, seemingly irrelevant to automobiles, is from Audi, would you?
By answering questions and sharing information, the carmaker is one of the first brands that utilizes the long-form platform to establish to connect and reach out to an attentive, knowledgeable audience.
Investment that leaves a lasting impact
Making the effort to establish expert authority on Zhihu will reap rewards, though they are more for longer-term brand building than hitting sales goals for the month.
Viral campaigns come and go in the blink of an eye. While a high-quality Zhihu post essentially lasts forever. First, they let good and relevant content stick around and come up first in searches, even when those results were published a while ago. Second, it enjoys a high domain authority on mainstream search engines, meaning Zhihu posts often rank higher than most other platforms.
Zhihu’s position as a producer and sharer of valuable content presents a unique offering to brands that have a lot of information and expertise they can share with users.
Different from most social platforms where posting regularly is the norm, one piece of high-quality content on Zhihu is enough to yield long-tail results. It can be a powerful tool to establish long-term trust and thought leadership, but the results won’t come overnight.