Xianhongshu, “The Little Red Book” or simply “Red” (in its latest international iteration), is a social media and e-commerce platform. Its meteoric rise in China is the stuff of legends.
Xiaohongshu differs from other mega-platforms like Tmall.com and JD.com in an (once unique) way: as opposed to playing host to branded online stores, Red allows its users to post and share product reviews, travel blogs and lifestyle content via short videos and images. Taobao, Dianping and other multi-purpose platforms have since taken its cue and incorporated video sharing and personal profile functions into their own platforms to varying degrees of success.
In 2020, its monthly active user numbers jumped from 83 million to 138 million in the 10-month period from February to December, an astonishing 66% increase.
It’s interesting to note that the first product Xiaohongshu launched in June 2013 is a PDF document (yes, you read that right, a PDF) called “Xiaohongshu Overseas Shopping Guide”.
This PDF document was downloaded over 500,000 times in the 3 months which followed its launch. By December 2013, Xiaohongshu had already created its “overseas shopping sharing community”, which drew a seemingly endless stream of shopping and luxury product enthusiasts that couldn’t wait to flaunt their international shopping experience. Xiaohongshu was serious about community building, as it only allowed “verified” shoppers into its communities to combat the trend of e-merchants masquerading as shoppers and leaving fake reviews in hopes of duping inbound traffic to their (often duplicitous) stores. In doing so, Xiaohongshu was able to ensure a steady stream of quality content for its users.
Global brands are still finding their way in China, and it may surprise some of them to know that a social media network that was virtually unknown five years ago can help them get there faster. Perhaps more often than Western consumers, Chinese shoppers are used to going by word-of-mouth when looking within their trusted networks, not at conventional ads, when making purchase decisions. And when they ask around in their networks, those networks include influencers, who can easily generate sales for products they back.
In China, influencers are known as KOL (Key Opinion Leader). Like western influencers, KOLs charge brands to create content or a Xiaohongshu “note” for a particular product, any product. For instance, a small hostel in Japan was flooded with Chinese tourists as the result of a series of paid “notes” posted by multiple travel related KOLs.
Having started largely as a place for users to show off luxury shopping hauls and make recommendations, Xiaohongshu is the perfect breeding ground for shopping content that Chinese users can’t seem to take their eyes off of.
An average Xiaohongshu user spends 40 minutes per day on the platform — almost three times as much as Pinterest users — and opened the app at least four times each day,
Every day, Xiaohongshu is home to over 8 billion views on hundreds of thousands of review articles. This ocean of user data allows Xiaohongshu algorithms to see and predict trends more accurately and make creepily personal recommendations that are much more effective than, dare we say, Facebook or Google ads that are based on searches or purchases made on other sites. In Chinese social media parlance, if you have something on your wishlist, you “plant weeds”; and when you finally have the budget to buy it, you “pull weeds”. In this sense, Xiaohongshu is the perfect place for planting and pulling weeds.
Xiaohongshu is essentially an online influencer sales convention on steroids. This isn’t the mega-, macro-, micro, or nano-influencer marketing that you’re used to. This isn’t even necessarily about finding the right niche. Let’s put it this way, if you’ve got the budget for it (and prices for KOL services do vary greatly), Xiaohongshu can make it happen for your brand or service.