NICE: Introducing China’s very own Instagram

Last Updated on May 10, 2024

China\’s decision to ban Instagram in 2014 following pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong paved the way for other competitors to take over the local photo-editing landscape. Several apps have capitalized from Instagram’s decline, most notably Nice. But what makes Nice better than other Chinese photo-editing applications? Is it really just another Instagram-remake? Find out all there is to know about Nice in our review of the service.

Instagram\’s rise and fall in China

Before the uprising of social media and photo-sharing services such as Instagram, the most convenient way to share your photos with friends was to force them to sit through a cringeworthy slideshow of your vacations. (That’s me on the beach, that’s me drinking a cocktail, that’s me waving to the camera…). Disposable cameras were all the rage, selfies were frowned upon and filters couldn’t save the day.

Since then though, the photo-sharing space has changed drastically. Instagram claims more than 95 million photos & videos are shared on the platform each day while Facebook reportedly accounts for 300 million daily photo uploads. With increased access to smartphones and heightened internet connectivity, people all around the world can share photos on their favorite platforms and connect with other users by liking or commenting their posts.

\"Instagram Instagram Stats 2014

Instagram’s arrival on the scene in 2010 signaled the beginning of a new era. Although Facebook had already accustomed people to posting pictures online, Instagram encouraged people to discover photos taken by strangers and use editing tools to create their own masterpieces.
Instagram quickly became a worldwide phenomenon with users spread all over the world. While the app’s overwhelming success in North America and Europe was to be expected, the ease with which it initially conquered the Asian market came as a surprise to those who’d witnessed countless American failures across the Pacific Ocean.

During a TechCrunch presentation in 2011, the company’s co-founder Kevin Systrom said that China accounted for more than 100,000 weekly downloads of the app. Working with local microblogging services such as Sina Weibo, which at the time had no photo editing/sharing feature, allowed Instagram to move ahead of local competitors and become the go-to authority in their industry.

All was going so well for Instagram until politically sensitive events caused China’s internet censors to add Instagram to the long list of banned websites in Mainland China.
The pro-democracy protests that took place in Hong Kong back in September 2014 were getting so much attention on social media that the government decided to deal with it in typical fashion. In a matter of days, Instagram went from being a mainstay of Chinese digital culture to nothing more than a distant memory.

\"HK HK Umbrella Movement

Instagram’s censorship opened the door for local Chinese competitors to make a name for themselves in the industry but although many tried, few managed to match Instagram’s slick appearance. Several apps have nonetheless capitalized from Instagram’s decline, most notably Nice.

What is Nice and how does it work?

Nice is a photo-editing/sharing app that was founded in 2013 by “a team of fashionistas turned developers” determined to shrug off the copycat label that has long plagued Chinese brands. By integrating the use of stickers, tags, Tinder-like swipes and instant chat functionalities, Nice has taken photo-based social communication to the next level and boasted over 12 million users in 2014. What’s more, Nice has a bilingual user interface that switches depending on the language of your device.

The application’s interface is split into 5 sections or tabs. The homepage displays featured content such as recommended users, your friends’ activity and a button allowing you to search for new friends. If you tap on one of the recommended users’ photos, you’ll be able to view likes & comments and swipe left or right to check out that user’s other photos.

\"Home Home Tab – NICE

The next horizontal tab is entitled “Discover” and as the name suggests, this section helps you to find new accounts to follow based on several factors such as geographical proximity and common followers. Clicking on “Nearby” will enable you to view the latest pictures of people closest to your geographical position. The distance between you and the other user is displayed under each picture and the more you scroll down, the further away those users will be. You can choose to view all nearby accounts or sort between males or females only.

\"Discover Discover Tab – NICE

The discover section also promotes live accounts which function a lot like Periscope accounts in the sense that you can follow live feeds of people filming their everyday lives with their phones.
Once again, Nice allows you to swipe through live feeds and comment in real-time. Why anyone would enjoy watching someone getting their hair cut is another question for another day but the number of live viewers at all times is quite staggering.

The camera tab doesn’t require an explanation but the next horizontal section is one of the features that makes Nice so unique. In order to encourage more interactions as well as to make the app more than a photo hosting platform, Nice has implemented direct text messaging between users.

You can either send a text message to a particular user through their profile page or send a photo to random users by “throwing a dart”.
These “darts”, as they’re called in the app, allow you to connect with likeminded people who may or may not send you a message after receiving your pic.

\"Instant Instant Messaging – NICE

The fifth and final tab is a standard “Me” page on which you can edit your settings and follow all sorts of interesting notifications such as new followers, your tags, comments & likes. This section also allows you to create tribes which are basically groups such as classroom mates, colleagues, Shanghai marketers etc. You can then post photos on that group and interact with other members of the “tribe”.

So now that you’ve got a basic idea of the structure of the app and its main functionalities (photo-editing/sharing + text messaging), we can now take a closer look at the 2 features that make Nice different to other local photo-editing applications.

To start off with, Nice encourages users to insert tags in their photos rather than in the accompanying text. Admittedly, tags are well-known social features by now and Facebook has been inserting name tags on photos for years, but Nice have taken tagging to a whole new level. As well as being able to tag people and places, you can now tag objects (most usually clothes) with brand names. Instagram has recently started working with brand tags too, but don’t be fooled into thinking this was their idea.

As you can imagine, tagging is an extremely interesting communication strategy for brands who work with key opinion influencers to generate attention and interest. Brands can also set up a campaign page or create stickers and hashtags in order to increase engagement.

\"Brand Brand Tagging – NICE

Tagging is certainly one of Nice’s most important features but their selection of importable stickers has also been met with wide acclaim. Users can add all sorts of stickers to their photos, ranging from cartoon characters to catchphrases. Every sticker has a limited quantity and the only way to get more of them is to share the sticker you want on Qzone or WeChat Moments.

Although Nice hasn’t started monetizing yet, it certainly has plans to do so in the future. Selling stickers and image filters is one possibility although brand advertising would probably prove to be a more profitable initiative. Branded tags are already omnipresent on the platform and it’s only a question of time before Nice turns this into a revenue stream.

Review of Nice: How does it compare to Instagram?

All in all, Nice is a very complete photo-editing application with a strong social component. It allows users to edit and share photos and therefore serves as a suitable alternative to Instagram. But what really sets Nice apart from the competition is the social experience it promotes. By enabling users to chat and exchange photos through darts, Nice encourages users to be part of a social network rather than a photo storage platform.

Brand tagging seems to be Nice’s ultimate USP but although the feature is highly popular among current users, not everyone will appreciate the consumerist lifestyle it advertises.
Flicking through photos on Nice sometimes feels like browsing through a fashion catalogue. All that’s missing is prices and testimonials.

Don’t get me wrong, from a business perspective, Nice is a great way to promote your products through key opinion leaders. The fact that brands are mainly promoted by other users certainly makes browsing more customer-friendly and less salesy than flicking through a clothes brochure but the app’s commercial component will divide public opinion. Some will say that brand tagging is an innovative way for users to share their tastes and interests while others will claim that it takes the focus away from photography.

The use of stickers is also quite debatable. While there’s a great selection of images and slogans to choose from, the fact you need to share stickers on other social media platforms in order to get new ones is a bit of a turn off. Today’s generation is increasingly picky when it comes to sharing content online and I’m not sure that forced sharing is the right approach.

Despite this, Nice has a growing user-base and shows no signs of slowing down. Instagram’s disappearance paved the way for a local competitor to take over and Nice have seemingly taken that responsibility upon themselves. I’m not convinced that Nice will become a global competitor anytime soon but it has all the ingredients needed to become an important player in the Chinese social media landscape.

Here at Sekkei Studio, we’ve helped numerous companies to increase engagement and attract new visitors on Nice. We’re experts in Chinese digital media and have the required know-how to promote your services to Chinese audiences. If you’d like us to work together or just want some friendly advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by email or through Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.



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