Revealing the Strategy Behind Chinese Social Commerce App Xiaohongshu

TMO GroupSeptember 19, 2018
Revealing the Strategy Behind Chinese Social Commerce App Xiaohongshu

The masses have the power, especially in China. However, the masses and quality content go hand in hand on the currently hot Chinese app Xiaohongshu (literally Little Red Book).

Only a few months ago, this social commerce unicorn raised 300 million USD in its Series D round of funding from investors including Alibaba Group. So how can eCommerce companies use this app for their business? What is the best strategy to start on Xiaohongshu? Read on to learn the answers!

The Start of Xiaohongshu and its Users

In 2013, Xiaohongshu started as a platform where users could make their own beauty and fashion lists. Gradually, its focus shifted from content to social commerce. Now, these extensive personal product reviews and recommendations are the most popular. In the past 4 years the app grew explosively, counting more than 100 million registered users as of this year.

The large majority of these users are female urbanites between 24-35 old. A highly coveted demographic in other words. Although it is mostly focused around beauty, it also branches out to other sectors such as fashion, travel and food.

chinese app xiaohongshu strategy post

And with increasing investments in the platform, it is now also shifting to offline. We discussed New Retail earlier this year, the integration of online and offline retail powered by data technology.

Many Chinese giants are capitalising on this development. Alibaba has a lot of success with setting up offline stores for their online apps and is following in their footsteps. Xiaohongshu also opened a store in Shanghai recently, closely related to its successful online concept. For example, the store only features the most popular items on the app and integrates AR technology in its services.

What Happens at Xiaohongshu

Let’s take a quick look to how Xiaohongshu works. Instead of giving 5-star reviews or a like, the platform thrives on longform reviews with extensive details and many pictures. Xiaohongshu views itself as a first-party distributor, offering its brands an ‘all-inclusive platform’ without having to worry about customer service or delivery.

But eCommerce is not Xiaohongshu’s main goal. Although brands are able to set-up their own accounts, marketing instead of sales should be the main drive. Whether they are niche or mainstream brands, Xiaohongshu can generate a lot of exposure.

chinese app xiaohongshu strategy products

Furthermore, since celebrities discovered the platform, their recommendations can immediately skyrocket demand for products. Thus, high-quality User Generated Content (UGC) and Professional User Generated Content (PUGC) are crucial to become successful on the platform. This means that most brands will be working together with relevant KOL’s.

chinese app xiaohongshu strategy celebrity

Chinese Terminology for Attracting Customers

A few terms you may hear a lot in (online) conversations about attracting customers are: "zhongcao (种草)", "zhangcao (长草)" and "bacao (拔草)". These can be literally translated as: “planting weeds”, “growing weeds” and “pulling weeds”.

These terms are used for many of China’s online platforms. In the case of Xiaohongshu, ‘planting weeds’ would be done by KOL’s. They cultivate their followers and following to turn them into loyal customers.

chinese app xiaohongshu strategy review

‘Growing weeds’ is something the customers ideally do themselves, by making use of the app and its services. Xiaohongshu nurtures its audience by recommending related product reviews and writing purposefully alluring titles for its products.

Finally, a weed can be ‘pulled’, and this could go either way. The customer might make a purchase based on a recommendation written on Xiaohongshu. However, if the recommendation seemed ingenuine or too commercial, it might mean the customer ‘pulls out’ and decides to not buy the product.

As mentioned, these terms apply to almost all online Chinese platforms. Online marketplaces, customers, merchants and KOL’s are constantly part of this cycle.

Successful Strategies for Xiaohongshu

So now you know how Xiaohongshu works, but how can you be successful on the platform? What content should be included or avoided? We did the research for you and list key aspects and case studies below.

KOL and Celebrity Balance

As we mentioned a few times, working with influencers is key on Xiaohongshu. However, credibility is crucial, so products should fit the person promoting them.

Furthermore, Xiaohongshu is built upon personal recommendations, which makes every person their own influencer for his or her circle. Therefore, it is necessary to have a mix of celebrities, high profile influencers and micro-influencers. For an idea of how many persons would be ideal for every tier, check the below graphic.

chinese app xiaohongshu strategy kol infographic

Source: Great KOL

Additionally, Xiaohongshu also has their own official accounts which function as KOLs. They have a few accounts, some focused on the female audience and also for the male audience. Brands can follow these accounts and develop a relationship with them which might get these accounts to promote their products.


Longform content with quality pictures is key to gather a following on Xiaohongshu. These notes, as they are called, should be relatable and credible. There are a few writing techniques to achieve this goal:

Focus on the Everyday Life

Whether it is putting on makeup, choosing clothes combinations or going to work. You use, wear or pack certain things for a specific reason. Show your audience which products you need everyday and voilà: instant relatability.

chinese app xiaohongshu strategy everyday life products

Provide an Expert View

Do you know how to change your face shape with makeup or a haircut? Are you an expert in choosing beauty products? Can you list all the benefits that pearls have on the skin and the body? Then tell your audience!

chinese app xiaohongshu strategy knowledge post

Besides explaining the use or effect of certain products, it is even better if you can provide some new information. Advanced technologies or different techniques will pique your audience’s interest. Not only can you present yourself as an expert, your followers will be thankful you taught them something new.

Show the Difference

It is a tried and true method: showing before and after pictures. Let the effects of products talk for themselves by providing pictures and detailed descriptions. Additionally this allows you to emphasize that you are also a common person with common problems. More ‘natural’ photos without makeup and with imperfections will help for image building, make you relatable and credible.

chinese app xiaohongshu strategy before after post

Link to Current Hot Topics

Users of Xiaohongshu mainly look for content in two ways: by topic or by hot item. For example, the tv drama series Story of Yanxi’s Palace (延禧宫略) is currently very popular. So on Xiaohongshu there are many articles detailing the (makeup) looks of the main characters and which products can help you achieve this.

chinese app xiaohongshu strategy hot topic post

Marketing Rather than Sales Tool

The Chinese app Xiaohongshu thus has a lot of potential for eCommerce companies in China, but not for direct sales. Not only are set-up costs relatively high, Xiaohongshu also allows KOLs only to do advertisements after writing 4 high-quality notes.

However, serious marketing efforts on the platform are sure to be rewarded by its dedicated and interactive audience. So use the info from this article to make your Xiaohongshu adventure a success!

Disclaimer: all pictures in this article are sourced from copyright-free platforms. If however you believe that infringement has occurred despite this, please contact us and we will remove the offending image immediately.

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