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How universities can use China’s short video platforms for lead generation

January 16, 2022 |   Dandan Cheng

Want to reach millions of university-age students in China? A short video lead generation campaign on one of China’s short-video apps, like Douyin, can put you directly in front of your target market.

According to QuestMobile, in 2019, seven out of 10 mobile users in China were watching, sharing and recording short videos as a part of their daily life. Those numbers have gone up sharply since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past nine months, more than 100 million Chinese users have signed up for one or more of these short video platforms. In total, there are about 873 million daily active users of short video apps in China, accounting for 88% of the 1 billion Chinese netizens.

What’s more, significant numbers of these users are younger than 24 years old, which is the age group universities looking to recruit and market to Chinese international students need to target.

What are China’s leading short-video platforms?

There are several lead-generating short video platforms in China, but three account for more than 80% of the overall market: Douyin, Kuaishou and Bilibili.

What are the differences between them, and how can universities decide which is the right one for their short video lead generation campaign to support their China digital marketing goals?

Let’s break down each one to get a better idea of how many people use them and what the audience demographic is.


Known as TikTok in the rest of the world, Douyin is the dominant force in the short video market in China. Launched in 2016, Douyin has grown its user base in leaps and bounds year over year.

  • 518 million monthly average users, spending an average of 43 minutes per day on the app
  • 23% of Douyin users are 24 years old or younger
  • 37% are 25 to 35
  • 13% are 36 to 40
  • 26% of Douyin users are older than 40 years old
  • 23% of Douyin users come from Tier 1 cities
  • 21% come from Tier 2 cities
  • 25% come from Tier 3 cities
  • 22% come from Tier 4 (or below) cities

Because of its large user base, nearly half of whom are located in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, Douyin has a rating of two stars for the spending power of its user base. Douyin users are in a good economic situation, and they are willing to spend money.

Kuai Shou

Lagging behind Douyin, but making up strides is Kuaishou. The app has nearly 573 overall million users.

  • 443 million monthly average users, spending an average of 36 minutes per day on the app
  • 29% of Kuai Shou users are 24 years old or younger
  • 48% are 25 to 35
  • 12% are 36 to 40
  • 11% of Kuai Shou users are older than 40
  • 10% of Kuai Shou users come from Tier 1 cities
  • 36% are from Tier 2 cities
  • 20% are from Tier 3 cities
  • 34% are from Tier 4 (or lower) cities

Despite having the second-largest user base of the three leading short video platforms in China, Kuaishou is only rated one star for the spending power of its user base.


The third major short video app player in China is Bilibili, but it lags far behind both Douyin and Kuai Shou in user numbers. However, it’s the most dominant app among the younger generation in China.

  • 122 million monthly average users, spending an average of 89 minutes per day on the app
  • 82% of Bilibili users are 24 years old or younger
  • 7% are between 25 and 35
  • 8% of Bilibili uses are older than 40

Bilibili is ranked three stars for the spending power of its user base. Bilibili users are the most willing to spend money and spend more when they do.

When do the Chinese watch short videos?

Like so many people around the world, the Chinese are time poor and short videos fit perfectly into those small moments in between other things, like lunch breaks or commuting to and from work.

For instance, 46.6% said they watch short videos during breaks at work or between classes, and 46% said they watch on their commute to work or school. 

The Chinese also watch short videos as a way of unwinding at the end of the day, with 52.8% saying they watch before going to sleep.

Other times Chinese people watch short videos are:

  • 43% - after work or school
  • 42.1% - while waiting
  • 40.6% - during lunch or dinner
  • 32.5% - before or after getting up
  • 32.2% - in the toilet
  • 29.8% - during long-distance travel
  • 11.6% - at work
  • 10.7% - while exercising
  • 9.7% - during a meeting
  • 7.7% - during class

China's daily video traffic peaks correlate with the top video-watching activities.

Nearly 53% watch short videos between 8 and 10 pm, in other words, during or after dinner. Almost as many (51.8%) watch between noon and 2 pm, which is when most people take their lunch break.

Forty-five per cent watch between 6 and 8 pm, when most people are commuting from work or settling down for dinner, while nearly 33% watch between 6 and 8 a.m., which coincides with breakfast and the morning commute.

What type of short-video content are the Chinese watching, and what does that mean for university marketers?

By and large, Chinese consumers of short videos want to be entertained and learn about new things, whether food, places or products.

The largest group of short video watchers (61%) want to watch funny or comical videos. High-pitched voices, funny or unexpected situations and sped-up videos are very popular.

Nearly as many (59%) short video watchers want to see videos about food and life. Chinese people are really fond of anything food-related. Videos don’t even have to have words. They can just be images of someone making food, like a popular local dish that anyone studying in your country might enjoy.

The third most popular type of content should be of great interest to universities: 56% of video content consumed by Chinese people is related to skills and knowledge.

How are some universities already using short videos for lead generation campaigns in China?

Among the universities already running Douyin marketing campaigns is Central Queensland University. The lead generation campaign consists of a simple slideshow-style video with music that uses text to emphasise three key benefits of the program. The short video ends with a clear call to action (CTA) at the top of the screen so that anyone who is interested in learning more can click on it. The CTA leads to a landing page with a form to submit their contact info.

Arizona State University in the US is another school leveraging a Douyin marketing campaign, but it uses the power of social influence for its short video. In it, Chinese students, called Student Ambassadors, share their stories in their own words while video footage of the class and campus experience plays in the background.

How can a university target the right persona to run a successful lead generation campaign on Douyin in China?

Douyin’s marketing platform gives universities a number of ways to target their audience.

Geographic filters can be as broad as province/city or as specific as district/county, and even business district.

There are five age-range filters, but Douyin recommends using 18-23 to target students and 41-50 to target their parents. This second filter is particularly important as a substantial percentage of Douyin users fall solidly into the parent demographic.

Douyin also gives short video lead generation campaign marketers the opportunity to enter keywords. For schools and universities, Douyin suggests using: study abroad, foreign universities, IELTS, TOEFL, Gaokao, Kaoyan.

The final Douyin filter is talent, also called Key Opinion Leaders (KOL). This allows marketers to select a popular Chinese influencer whose following fits the persona the marketer is trying to reach. Douyin’s algorithm will then feed the marketer’s short video to any of its audience that matches that KOL’s follower persona.

3 Tips to Make Your Short Video Lead Generation Campaign in China More Successful

Finally, a few tips to ensure your Douyin marketing campaign is successful.

  1. Be Engaging

Most importantly, fun and casual videos do best with the Douyin audience. Regardless of age, Douyin users want something that is engaging. If your video does not engage a Douyin user within five to 10 seconds, chances are they’ll tap to move on to the next short video ad.

  1. Keep It Short

Douyin users are on the app to watch short videos. They are not prepared or willing to give away too much of their free time. University videos that do the best are 45 seconds in length or shorter.

  1. Keep It Vertical

Ads that are portrait in nature (vs landscape) do better on Douyin. Portrait videos do not require users to rotate their phones, making the transition between content easier for users.

Want to learn more about how you can develop a successful digital strategy for your university in China? Download our guide today!

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