Last Updated on June 7, 2023
Is 小红书 (Little Red Book, aka RED) all it’s cracked up to be? Or is it just a flash in the pan, a one-hit wonder, an over-hyped fad, bound to go the way of Vine and MySpace? It’s hard to tell. One thing’s for sure – in the last few years, it’s gone from being a relatively niche platform, used almost exclusively to share cosmetics tips, to a full-blown social commerce powerhouse. We’re going to give an overview of what RED is, the kinds of users it attracts, user behaviour, KOLs vs KOCs, RED ads and best practices.
First up, let us hit you with some quick facts:
- 300 million registered users, and growing
- 100 million monthly active users
- 50%+ users in first and second tier cities
- 80:20 female to male ratio
- Annual KOL investment growth of more than 100% – more than Weibo, WeChat and Douyin
What is Little Red Book?
RED started out in 2013 as a platform for mainland Chinese consumers who were headed to Hong Kong for some shopping. It catered to the propensity among Chinese consumers to do thorough pre-purchase research, by providing a space in which they could recommend to each other the best quality and best value products, with video and photo evidence.
With the content being user-generated, it garnered high levels of trust, as those who were using the platform were not usually incentivized, and were therefore seen to be unbiased. It became particularly popular with young women, who would recommend cosmetics, jewelry and apparel to one another. The company quickly pivoted from a Hong Kong focus to, more broadly, shopping destinations all over Asia, and then to shopping tips for e-commerce.
In 2014, it opened ‘RED store’, allowing users to make purchases directly through the app. Since then, it has been at the forefront of the growth in social commerce, and, alongside Alibaba’s Taobao, pioneered widespread adoption of livestream commerce. Though more and more brands are joining, user-generated content still makes up 70% of all content on the platform.
The Most Popular Topics
Little Red Book is a social commerce platform primarily used by young Chinese women interested in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle products. As such, the most popular topics on the platform revolve around these categories. Beauty-related content is especially popular on Little Red Book, with makeup tutorials, skincare routines, and product reviews being among the most frequently posted content.
Fashion is another popular topic, with users sharing outfit inspiration, clothing hauls, and fashion trends.
Food and travel are also popular topics, with users sharing their favorite restaurants, travel destinations, and local experiences.
Additionally, Little Red Book’s users are increasingly interested in wellness and fitness, with posts about healthy eating, exercise routines, and mental health gaining traction on the platform.
By creating content that aligns with these popular topics, brands can tap into the interests and preferences of Little Red Book’s highly engaged user base and connect with them in a meaningful way.
The Users to Expect
Little Red Book has a decidedly specific user base: young, affluent, urban women. Estimates put the userbase at between 80 and 90% female, around half of whom are under 24 years old, the majority of whom live in first or second-tier cities.
Share of users by city tier, 2021, source Statista
With 100 million monthly users, however, that still makes for between 10 and 20 million male users; not a meagre sum, by any means.
Little Red Book User Behaviour
RED has the sort of interface you’d expect of a visual-heavy social media app. Users are met first with three feeds: posts by accounts followed, ‘explore’ and ‘nearby’. Scrolling vertically, these feeds consist of videos and images, with short captions, hashtags and the option to add URLs that lead to product or store pages. Content in the ‘explore’ and ‘nearby’ feeds is suggested algorithmically, according to interests declared by the user, and their prior in-app behaviour. Users can follow each other, flesh out their own profile, and build networks.
Besides the social feeds, there is the mall (商城) section, where users can select from a series of product-category feeds. These lead to product pages, which in turn lead to storefronts like that pictured.
Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) vs Key Opinion Customers (KOCs)
Anyone who’s taken an even fleeting interest in marketing in China will be familiar with KOLs. Referred to as influencers outside of China, enlisting KOLs for a while was seen as the one-shot-kill solution to being seen and heard, whether for a product launch, an event, a livestream or a general endorsement. Today, they’re still a cornerstone of marketing budgets, while traditional ad spending is decreasing.
However, brands are reporting a shift in focus. With budgets tightening, and the KOL honeymoon period over, there’s a new interest in targeting, in specificity. While KOLs might garner huge interest in a product for a moment or two, it is often the KOLs themselves that the audience pays attention to, not the brand behind the product.
Enter, the key opinion customer. While KOLs might have hundreds of thousands of followers, KOCs may only have a few hundred, or a couple of thousand. They are rarely paid directly by brands, but instead recruited indirectly through campaigns including loyalty schemes, rewards and giveaways.
They are the social commerce equivalent of a brand ambassador, people who are looked to by their friends and close contacts as a trusted source of information. For them to repeatedly feature a brand, ostensibly by their own volition, places the brand front and center. The social nature of RED has caused it to become the epicenter of the growth in KOCs.
Little Red Book Ads – Are they worth it?
RED does not provide the traditional display ad format option. They do however have full-screen pop-up ads and integrated ads. The latter appear, and behave, like posts in a chosen feed.
The most common way of advertising on RED is by enlisting the help of a KOL. Though the prices for some KOLs are eye-wateringly high, there are affordable options too, that a decent agency will have access to.
Whether either traditional ads or KOLs are worth it depends largely on whether your brand has an official account and/or an e-store set up on the RED platform. Official accounts allow brands to interact with users in a similar way to an individual user would; meanwhile an e-store fulfils the general ecommerce functions. If your brand isn’t already integrated in the RED ecosystem, then the return on ad investment is going to be low.
- Post videos. Videos are much more likely to be recommended, and interacted with, than single images. Choose a decent cover image to go with the videos.
- Interaction is the name of the game on RED. In any RED campaign, always bear in mind that this is a social commerce app. Brands are expected to be social agents too, not just faceless entities. Build communication with users into any plans.
- Optimize keywords & hashtags. Unlike some platforms, on RED, long-tail traffic is very much a thing. Posts are recommended based on engagement and interaction – if a post is matched up with a keyword, and it has a good history of engagement, then it will not necessarily lose its spot to newer content.
- Post often. Especially in the beginning. The posts need to be well-researched and visually compelling, so it’s a good idea to spend some time preparing everything before campaign launch, so that a series of daily posts are ready to go from the outset. Preparation is key.
RED: The Quiet E-Commerce Powerhouse
In terms of relative numbers of users, Little Red Book is one of the smaller platforms for e-commerce in China. But in terms of absolute numbers, it’s absolutely huge. While its 100 million monthly active users don’t compare to WeChat’s 1.2 billion, 100 million is still more than the entire population of Germany or the UK.
These highly active, fairly niche users (mostly young women in tier-one cities) are positioned within a somewhat genius shopping cycle. While we may talk of ‘posts’ on RED, akin to posts on other social media platforms, the majority of content is actually branded as ‘notes’ – that is, notes on products, purchases and experiences. While notes are discursive, with users adding comments to chat as a community, the discussions are angled at evaluating and making suggestions for other users regarding shopping, at their heart.
Where’s the shopping cycle here? Well, users read notes from others, then make a purchase. They’ll then post their own notes based on the purchase, and follow it up with a discussion with other users about it. Other users see this note, and the discussion, and make a purchase, thereby making a full journey through the cycle.
How Purchases Are Made on Little Red Book?
Here comes a bone of contention. RED started as a social platform, but pivoted to include e-commerce. The question is, how successful has this pivot been? RED provides brands a store function, similar to other e-commerce platforms. It allows them to create direct links between posts and product pages, ads and storefronts, livestreams and deals. It gives them an aesthetically pleasing interface, which they may customize to make their own. What’s more, they charge lower fees and commissions than their rivals (5% commission, 600RMB annual fee, vs. Tmall’s 6% and US$9000 annual fee).
Seemingly, for RED itself, it’s had good, but not great, results. Why? The majority of users do not buy on the platform. Instead, they utilize the platform’s recommendations, and then make the actual purchase on another platform, such as Tmall or Pinduoduo.
In an attempt to counteract this, in 2021, RED banned text links to products on other platforms; although, they may still be included in livestreams.
What does this mean for brands, though? While it’s not great news for RED, it’s not necessarily bad news for brands. As long as purchases are being made as a result of activity on RED, then it is a useful tool. Brands will have to be aware, though, that because of this phenomenon, RED might not be enough alone. Diversifying sales options, where possible, allows users to hit multiple touchpoints; something that is very important to Chinese consumers especially.
RED – Hot Product Categories
Excuse the red-hot pun… ahem…
It’s no secret that consumers on RED skew heavily towards certain product categories, namely skincare, beauty products, clothing, and home products. This doesn’t mean other products can’t be sold, but really, the figures speak for themselves:
Like all e-commerce platforms, Little Red Book has a calendar of special shopping events. Brands are well-advised to plan campaigns around these dates. See the image below for an overview.
Utilizing RED Influencers For E-Commerce Activation
RED is the spiritual home of the Chinese influencer (aka Key Opinion Leader, KOL). Its interface and functionality is frequently compared to Instagram, and its users’ propensity to flaunt their well-curated daily lives is analogous to the point of parody. All marketers know the Bernaysian allure of influencers, but RED has some intricacies worth highlighting.
- Get on the official backend. Pugongying is where you can find KOLs of all stripes, with their rates. Officially, all KOL activations must go through this system, as RED takes a 10% commission. Unofficially, brands skirt this rule, but create risk in doing so.
- Product seeding is a good start. Think about the RED shopping cycle. The first step is to get notes made, and to get them noticed. Sending out generous amounts of product, to KOLs big and small, gets a brand’s foot in the door.
- Follow seeding with interaction and ads. RED is a social e-commerce platform; brands need to be social too. Reply to users, get conversations going, bring them into the exclusive bubble.
- Monitor KOL seeding results. With those who had high interaction, and decent outcomes, consider moving onto direct paid campaigns, and conduct them just as you would on any other platform.
Although Taobao Live, Douyin and Kuaishou still dominate live commerce in China, RED stands out in two key ways. First, their conversion rate is high. Second, their average spend, of 80RMB, is higher than other platforms. Brands may organise a KOL to conduct a live-stream on their behalf, they may place their products within a KOL’s live-stream, or they may conduct live-streams of their own. Unlike text and image-based parts of the app, it’s possible to link to TMall product pages within livestreams.
The gross merchandise value sold through RED livestreams in 2020 reached US$1bn, which is far from negligible, but doesn’t quite compare to its rivals; in the same year, Douyin’s total was US$78.5bn).
How To Set Up An E-Store On Little Red Book?
Important note: this whole process will be in Chinese. Using a browser with an in-built translator, like Chrome, might help. Otherwise, an agency or a trusted colleague with good Chinese skills should be enlisted. Getting set up is a four-step process:
Download the RED App, and click to open a professional account.
Submit the following documents, on the RED application page:
- Business registration
- Certificate of incorporation
- Customs registration form
There are some supporting documents you will need to provide too. These include company information (for businesses outside of China this simply involves a commitment letter), logistics, brand information, and trademark authorization.
When you register, choose to create an Enterprise Account; this gives you an official brand presence.
Wait for review. The process will take 1 to 5 working days.
Upon approval, pay a 20,000RMB deposit to open a store, and get ready for some more documents submission. Among other things, you’ll need to submit a company email, company information and registration details, financial information, and legal information about eligibility to sell branded products. Once it is submitted, RED will take a few days to review everything, and then the store will be opened.
In conclusion, Little Red Book offers a unique opportunity for foreign brands to connect with Chinese consumers interested in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle products. With its highly engaged user base and visually-focused approach, Little Red Book provides a platform for brands to leverage user-generated content and reach a highly influential audience in China.
By partnering with a leading Little Red Book Marketing agency such as SDG, foreign brands can maximize their visibility on the platform and take advantage of the agency’s expertise in navigating the complex Chinese market. SDG offers a range of services tailored to brands looking to establish a presence on Little Red Book, including influencer marketing, content creation, and e-commerce solutions. With SDG’s support, foreign brands can effectively engage with Little Red Book’s user base and increase their brand awareness and revenue in China.
To learn more about how SDG can help your brand succeed on Little Red Book, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today.