One reason I understand Chinese social media platforms as well as I do is that I’m not just an observer. I’m currently in the process of building my own Xiaohongshu KOL account.
When a platform becomes interesting to me, I open an account, start sharing content and attempt to grow an audience. I also engage with other users and influential accounts, check out trending topics and explore its features.
In recent months, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding Xiaohongshu (aka Little Red Book & Red), a social recommendation and e-commerce platform. I played around with the app casually for a while. However, the increasing attention the platform received, especially since the Alibaba-led $300 million investment round in June, pushed me to go all in.
Since mid-July, I have been publishing content twice a week and using the platform on a daily basis. Let me tell you: It’s addicting!
While I am by no means a Xiaohongshu expert, I’ve learned three things over the past month that can help all brands and marketers trying to leverage this platform.
Engagement is above average for regular users & Xiaohongshu KOL accounts
In marketing terms, engagement refers to the interaction users have with your post. On Xiaohongshu, that means likes, comments, shares, and saves.
High-quality engagement means users are leaving thoughtful, lengthy, on-topic comments, or sharing your post. Low-quality engagement refers to simply liking the post, or replying with something like “cool!”, or saying something completely unrelated to the post content.
Xiaohongshu has a very active user base, and I found the quality of engagement on the platform to be very high. While growing a Xiaohongshu KOL account, I’ve observed that readers often write paragraph-long comments, sharing their experiences related to the topic of the post. Others ask questions and share their situations, trying to explore if this product is right for them. Often, if I don’t respond right away, other users will jump in and offer guidance, and new threads will form within the comments section.
As a non-Chinese person posting on Chinese social media platforms, I often get a lot of off-topic comments. These include observations about my appearance or questions about learning English. I haven’t experienced nearly as much of this on Xiaohongshu as on other platforms. My impression of the platform’s users is that they are worldlier than average for China. Many of them have studied and lived abroad or are currently living abroad, and they are eager to share and learn from each other. The majority are female, although this is one area that Xiaohongshu is looking to change.
Informative, detailed content wins
While there are some cute puppy videos and comedy skits, there are significantly fewer of these in comparison with other Chinese social media platforms. (And far fewer dancing videos, thank goodness!)
Informative, detailed, useful content wins for a Xiaohongshu KOL. The more details, the better. The maximum limit for characters in the post text is 1,000. Top posts generally contain at least 500 characters, but frequently they are in the 900s.
Posts can contain up to nine images or one video. More images are better and, ideally, a post should have no less than four or five. I noticed that images do not need to be high-quality and professional for the post to do well. In fact, the exact opposite is sometimes true. Keep in mind that, on Xiaohongshu, realness and authenticity are important. Therefore, photos should be attractive and eye-catching, but it is OK if they are a bit raw. The first image will be the cover image that people will see when scrolling through their feed – it must be eye-catching.
I have not yet posted any videos. However, I highly recommend it, as Xiaohongshu is definitely giving preference to video content. For example, the second “category” tab on the homepage right next to “Recommended Content” is video content.
Despite following these guidelines, it can be hard to predict what content will do well. For example, I shared two posts with similar topics, and one went viral while the other got average results.
Right now, Xiaohongshu is a fairly even playing field. Although more traffic is being given to celebrities and top Xiaohongshu KOL accounts, it is still possible for new accounts with high-quality content to grow organically. In one month, with only seven posts, I have nearly 1,000 followers. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but remember, these are high-quality, engaged users. (And, from what I can tell, very few bots!)
Unfortunately, there have been some indications that Xiaohongshu will go the same route as China’s other social media platforms: divvying up traffic to multi-channel networks (MCNS) and making it difficult for independent users to grow a following.
Xiaohongshu is really a product discovery and recommendation search engine, not an e-commerce platform
Brands need to stop focusing on Xiaohongshu as an e-commerce platform and start thinking of it like a product discovery and recommendation search engine.
In recent months, the company has clearly indicated that e-commerce is not their main focus. They have restricted the number of new brands able to join the platform and have downsized their e-commerce department. In public interviews, representatives refer to the platform first-and-foremost as a social recommendation platform, not as an e-commerce platform.
In many ways, user behaviour and format are similar to Pinterest, with users searching for key terms or specific items they are interested in. If they find something they like, they can save it to a board and refer to it later. As users search for and engage with certain types of posts, the platform’s algorithm will immediately customise their feed to show similar posts. At the bottom of posts, users can scroll down to find recommended similar posts.
But there are some differences with Pinterest. Instead of users clicking on a post and being re-directed to a blog or website for more information, the information is all included in the Xiaohongshu post. Secondly, there is a much greater interactive community element to Xiaohongshu – similar to what you see on Instagram.
I visit the platform every day but have not once clicked on the “Store” tab. Granted, I’m biased because I’m American and live in America. Maybe if I was Chinese, or still lived in China, I would find it more useful. However, I believe most users are not on Xiaohongshu for the shopping and would prefer to find products elsewhere.
Experimenting with Xiaohongshu
Recently, I thought about buying a new wallet.
As a fun experiment, I went on Xiaohongshu to see if I could find any recommendations. I had something very specific in mind, yet – surprisingly – I found one I liked within minutes.
The post on Xiaohongshu was incredibly useful because it had plenty of pictures, and included a hand in some of them. With that, I was able to get a better idea of the size, quality, and features of the wallet than from the generic photos on the official brand site.
When I scrolled down, I also came across and a couple of other contenders. I’m still doing research, and I haven’t decided which one to buy. But, if I do decide to buy one, I will probably purchase it directly on the brand’s official site.
Yesterday, I also found a couple of items from Zara that I like…
In conclusion, creating a Xiaohongshu KOL account has been great for improving my knowledge about Chinese social media and expertise with this fast-growing platform. But, for my bank account, perhaps not so much.