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An introduction to Zhihu for China digital marketing

April 20, 2021 |   Dandan Cheng

In the way the West has Quora as its go-to Q&A forum, China has Zhihu (知乎). Literally meaning “Do you know”, Chinese netizens turn to Zhihu to look for answers to their questions. It differs from Baidu Zhidao in that the information shared on Zhihu is regarded as much more reputable, owing to the fact that initially only subject matter experts and professionals were invited to respond to queries. 

Even though answering questions on the platform is now open to a wider audience, the content is still tightly screened for quality with low quality or obviously promotional content being removed from view.

As a consequence, Zhihu attracts a highly educated user base. The majority of the 75.7 million monthly active Zhihu users live in China’s 1st and 2nd tier cities, are between 18 and 35 years old and more than 75% of its user base have a Bachelor’s degree or a higher degree.

This audience breakdown makes Zhihu an attractive digital marketing channel for universities looking to promote their higher degrees or executive education, as well as organisations in the B2B space that often sell highly complex solutions or services to business decision-makers. Suitable industries include, but are not limited to IT, technology, legal and medical.

Different types of Zhihu user accounts

Just like WeChat, Zhihu offers the ability to apply for different account types to match your needs.

Personal accounts can be set up either inside or outside of China and are often an inexpensive, easy option for small to medium-sized B2B organisations. The downside of personal accounts is that there is a risk of deletion if they become too advertorial, so content creation needs to be carefully curated and edited.

Organizational or Brand accounts have more leeway around this, but businesses wanting organizational accounts must have a Chinese business license.

Understanding salt value

From 2018, Zhihu introduced the concept of “Zhihu credit” or “Salt value” to encourage good user behaviour on the platform. According to Dayun Sun, community management director of Zhihu, the aim of Salt value is “helping our users live, grow, and build their influence with their professional expertise and insight”.

The five categories that go to building the Salt value score are:

  1. Credibility built through building out profile information such as educational degrees, work experience and any other qualifications the user has.
  2. Content creation, determined by the quantity and quality of content created on Zhihu.
  3. Friendliness, relating to civility towards members of the Zhihu community.
  4. Community behaviour around compliance with official terms of service.
  5. Community-building derived from how much a user contributes to the monitoring and curation of content (a way of incentivising the Zhihu community to self-govern).

The ability users have to create personal profiles allows them to build credibility as being a reputable information source. Carefully thinking out and paying ongoing attention to a profile is thus crucial to establish and maintain both authority and visibility on Zhihu. In a future post, we will cover in more detail how users can go about building their salt value.

The Zhihu user interface and features

Zhihu’s interface is simple.

The three primary components are:

  1. Main page;
  2. Discover; and
  3. Topic.

The main page is also divided in three:

  • Recommended, that uses an algorithm to create a customised page based on popularity and browser search history.
  • Following, displaying feeds posted by accounts followed.
  • Trending List, showcasing the 50 most popular discussions on the platform.

Several functions within these interfaces could prove invaluable, particularly to universities, when building out a Zhihu marketing strategy:

  • Zhihu University (including the Zhihu bookstore) offers a range of paid knowledge services, such as online courses, audiobooks and training camps.
  • Zhihu Live is an interactive live-streaming opportunity for real-time knowledge sharing and Q&A, and Courses comprises professional speakers offering short courses.
  • Zhihu Roundtable is similar to a webinar, with a host and up to four users engaging in discussions and with the audience able to raise questions.
  • Zhihu Column where more long-form content can be posted.


The benefits of Zhihu marketing

Generally, Zhihu is well-worth investigating as a marketing channel for organisations who have already established their digital marketing foundations in China.

This should include a fast-loading Chinese website, as well as a WeChat account. If approached with the right strategy, Zhihu can help your marketing activity by:

  1. Driving awareness for your brand or university within Zhihu

With average daily visits of more than 26 million, Zhihu offers very concrete means of raising brand awareness. Engaging with the community through Q&A and some of the sub-functions of Zhihu will activate discussions around the brand and further increase awareness.

And Zhihu’s recommendation algorithm helps brands reach target audiences, basing recommendations from a user’s profile, questions, concerns, likes and search history.

2. Generating high quality content that is very shareable on social media

Content generated on Zhihu is often shared by users on other Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo. This has the potential to further increase awareness for your organisation in China, as well as the added benefit of viral traffic generation.

3. Improving your organic ranking on Chinese search engines

In terms of ranking authority, Zhihu is regarded as highly trust-worthy by China’s major search engines. This means that investing time and effort on Zhihu content creation will help you to increase your overall online authority.

In summary

In little over a decade, Zhihu has developed into a popular platform with a user-base hungry for authoritative, helpful and credible information.

This information hungry audience does potentially mean that including Zhihu in a Chinese digital marketing strategy requires more constant attention than other platforms.

However, the opportunity Zhihu offers to connect with highly educated, higher purchasing-power users means there are boundless possibilities for businesses and universities to improve brand, reach and operational activity in China.

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